Surreal politics play out for indaba folk
Radebe delivers clear message as he upstages Zwane at ministerial symposium
It was the talk of the Mining Indaba.
On the eve of the indaba there is an invitation-only ministerial symposium at which the Mineral Resources minister has open and honest discussions with mining company CEOs and investors. This time, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe arrived at the symposium with a prepared speech.
Whether he was supposed to be on the programme or not seems to be a matter of some debate, but what’s not in question is that he upstaged Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who was reduced to making a few bland comments.
Mining indaba folk wondered whether Radebe was there to babysit Zwane and ensure he didn’t say or do anything more to drive investors away than he had already, but whatever the motive, Radebe’s pre-indaba intervention was read as a clear message that said, in effect, don’t worry about Zwane, new people are in charge and he will soon be gone.
The surreal politics of the moment were playing out at the indaba, in a sense. After a year in which relations between the mining industry and the mining ministry have plummeted to an all-time low, there was an upbeat feel that was based on nothing except the prospect that ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa would very soon take over as president of the country (and would tackle the mining industry impasse very soon after that.)
Estimates were that attendance at this year’s indaba was up 16% to well over 6,000, with the number of international investors up from 160 to 180. Anecdotally, suppliers to the industry who had stalls at the indaba exhibition were having a decent time, while dispensing bottles of water which were sought-after freebies in the Cape Town convention centre.
“After last year we almost didn’t return, but this year there’s a lot of interest and it feels like the industry is taking off again,” said one service provider.That was despite Zwane’s vacuous keynote address, in which he steered clear even of mentioning his highly contested revised mining charter, and despite a surreal question-and- answer session in which the minister repeatedly assured the audience that his door was always open and that he welcomed investment in South Africa’s mining industry.
Regulatory uncertainty has resulted in investment in the industry declining in real terms over the past four years. And if the minister’s door is indeed open, the industry is not about to enter it. The question marks over Zwane’s integrity and his involvement with the Guptas are one issue for the Chamber of Mines, which refuses to engage with the minister. The mining charter is the other.
The current position is that the charter, which Zwane gazetted in June with no consultation with the industry, has been suspended by mutual agreement pending the outcome of the industry’s court challenge. The chamber emphasises its members are committed to transformation and are keen to “get people round a table with a genuine interest in what is good for the country” to negotiate a new revised charter.
But that’s not going to happen until Zwane goes – and until the old charter is withdrawn altogether, not just suspended.
The chamber’s leadership made that clear at the indaba. It has written to Ramaphosa to say it wants to start engaging with him on the regulatory impasse, after he said last year that it was imperative to get the industry back on its feet, and he has indicated he wants to engage, says the chamber.
One positive that’s come out of the hugely damaging charter saga is that the chamber has taken advantage of the suspension of the process to talk to a broad range of stakeholders to find out what everyone is hoping to get out of empowerment and transformation, whether the mining charter is the way to do it, and, as chamber CEO Roger Baxter put it, “what a good charter would look like”.
That will surely enhance the process in the end, but the upbeat mood at the indaba will surely not endure for long, nor translate into tangible investment projects, if Ramaphosa doesn’t take over soon and install a new set of ministers.
If they want to see a real ramp-up in investment and job creation in the industry, they will need to look not only to the charter and the long-delayed new mining legislation, but also to the host of other regulatory requirements from as many as 15 ministries that affect the industry which are often not consistent with each other.
This is an industry in which there have been successful models of collaboration between business, government and labour – in the negotiation of the first two mining charters, as well as in initiatives such as Migdett (the Mining Industry Growth, Development and Employment Task Team) and the mining Phakisa a couple of years ago (even though Phakisa’s implementation stalled under Zwane). Collaboration is possible again, but politics have to make it so.