Deep Impact

The appointment of a new mining minister was a promising start to a closer relationship between the public and private sectors

Deep Impact

The most notable development in SA’s mining industry during 2018 was the slow repairing of damaged relations between the regulator and mining company bosses. In a marked turnaround in the government’s dealings with the mining sector, the appointment of Gwede Mantashe – a veteran mining trade unionist and political heavyweight – was an inspired choice by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Mantashe is the first mines minister since 1994 who has a track record in the sector he is overseeing and regulating, and who has long-standing relationships with key officials and executives in the Minerals Council South Africa and mining companies. It would be tempting to dwell on the past but there are clear lessons for Mantashe to draw upon and which he, as chairman of the ANC, appears to have in mind in his dealings with the industry.

Mantashe, who cut his teeth at the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), has made the active inclusion of a broad range of stakeholders one of his key strategies. Previously secretary-general of the ANC and now its chairman, Mantashe brings political clout that his predecessors lacked.

He was able to scrap amendments to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, which had been in the works since 2012 and had become a growing source of uncertainty since then-President Jacob Zuma returned it to Parliament because of concerns about it passing constitutional muster.

Mantashe and his team want to separate the oil, gas and petroleum elements from the act, bringing further regulatory certainty to both sectors, one of his key mandates. Soon after taking office, he sensibly scrapped his predecessor’s controversial third iteration of the Mining Charter but, interestingly, kept the document as the starting point for talks with industry, unions, communities and banks to drive transformation of the sector.

There was a collective sigh of relief from the industry after Mantashe gazetted the freshly redrafted document in September 2018. The new charter recognises that past empowerment deals count towards black ownership credits. It is probably the make-or-break factor in the new document and one that brought the industry’s support.

While that is the official position, there has been some argument that the charter is not perfect and much rides on the guidelines, which were published at the close of 2018. Senior company officials say they had some input in the guidelines and their hope is for clarity in the underlying document. Mining executives say there are ‘robust’ engagements with Mantashe and his team (which includes former director-general Sandile Nogxina as an adviser) but with an element of trust hitherto lacking.

While there is the notion of ideological positioning by Mantashe, which is inevitable given his years as general secretary of the NUM – for decades the undisputed voice of the SA miner – he has the ability to listen and assimilate the viewpoints coming from the industry.

While he might not always agree or implement them, insiders say there is a real sense of being listened to, and encouragement to voice opinions and reasoned opposition. Mantashe, like his counterparts in the private sector, wants the SA mining industry to thrive and grow, creating wealth and jobs for the country. Off that kind of base, pragmatism must slowly percolate the ministry and hopefully the discourse on how that ambition is achieved.

The industry must meet Mantashe halfway and enact the changes outlined in the charter to avoid charges in future that it is a reluctant participant in transformation. If ever there were a minister to work with to achieve these aims and change the perception of the industry, it is Mantashe.

By Allan Seccombe
Image: Gallo/Getty Images