Mining investors cheer mood swing in SA, Zim, Angola
Mining is a long-term game, but in southern Africa dramatic political changes have transformed the investment mood for the better in the space of a year.
Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe stepped down in 2017 after a combined 75 years in office, while the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as head of the ANC heralds the looming end of President Jacob Zuma’s scandal-ridden administration.
Industry leaders meeting in Cape Town for the Mining Indaba said the mood was radically different from a year ago as rising commodity prices, economic recovery and political change help offset lingering challenges.
“We can see the positive signs already in South Africa. There is nothing better than the rand’s strength to indicate what has happened to sentiment,” said Phillip Barton, chief executive of diamond miner De Beers’ South African operations.
The rand has gained about 5% against the dollar since Ramaphosa’s election in December.Underscoring the new confidence, almost 130 years after De Beers emerged from mines around Kimberley, the company is going back to its roots with a clutch of exploration permits to prospect for gem deposits there.
Rio Tinto has also hinted at expanding its African presence and this week said its board would consider new investment in infrastructure in South Africa.
Politics, once the drawback, are becoming the region’s drawcard.
“Zimbabwe has good geology, it has good people, and it looks like the political changes like South Africa’s are moving in the right direction,” said Neal Froneman, chief executive of precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater, which has assets in both countries.
Zimbabwe’s new mining minister Winston Chitando, who has worked in the industry, hosted a three-hour breakfast to court investors and will follow up with a mining conference back home at the end of the month.Angola’s new minerals and oil minister Diamantino Azevedo — who has a PhD in mining engineering — also wooed investors at a three-hour presentation on mining opportunities in Africa’s No 2 crude producer.
The changes could hardly be starker. In the past, Angolan and Zimbabwean ministers at the conference made almost no public bid to attract investors and were generally unapproachable, surrounded by surly handlers.
The ruling parties in both nations, the MPLA and Zanu-PF, are liberation movements that critics say were corrupted by power. The ANC now has a similar reputation.
Companies that have operated in Angola and Zimbabwe in the past lack fond memories, so a lot needs to be done.
“We operated there (Angola) and it was extremely difficult. It was soul-destroying and heartbreaking,” said Petra Diamonds chief executive Johan Dippenaar.But new Angolan President João Lourenço is seeking to win credibility with investors and draw a firm line between his administration and his predecessor’s, which was accused of squandering and siphoning off the nation’s oil wealth, leaving most of the population in abject poverty.
Angola is the world No 4 diamond producer and minister Azevedo said the former Portuguese colony aimed to begin gold production next year while inviting companies to explore for iron ore and copper.
Investors said they were encouraged that the Angolan and Zimbabwean ministers were from the industry.
“I can’t tell you how encouraged I am to see a man from us, a man from the industry heading that ministry; that is the single most encouraging thing, for me,” Wilfried Pabst, chairman of African Metals Management Services said in reference to Zimbabwe.
Pabst, whose company has lithium and tantalum assets, has had business interests in Zimbabwe since 1992.