No one was more surprised than me when President Jacob Zuma announced his new cabinet ministers at the end of May, ousting the Department of Mineral Resources’ Susan Shabangu and replacing her with ‘party veteran’ Ngoako Ramatlhodi.
You may wonder at my surprise considering the mining industry, generally speaking, agrees that her performance as mining minister and her portfolio delivery was rather lacking. My surprise follows directly on the back of a statement Shabangu herself made not that long ago (in February) in Canada at the annual PDAC show. At a private media gathering, which included myself and only two other mining journalists, Shabangu clearly stated that she had no intention of going anywhere when questioned on her future as South Africa’s mining minister.
And this was no passing comment either. She loudly reiterated her enthusiasm for the position she held and so strongly believed in. She declared that her intention to continue fighting for the disadvantaged people who deserved to benefit from the industry would only end when she breathed her last breath. Well Shabangu, that intention was clearly short-lived.
How quickly her role has been forgotten though. All eyes are on Ramatlhodi now and he is undoubtedly aware of this, having stepped up to the plate to try and resolve the crippling platinum strikes which at the time of writing this remain unresolved. He has impressed me thus far and I hope he continues to operate in first gear as time progresses. This remains to be seen but I have high hopes and even higher expectations. He is after all the first male mining minister to take the stand since I entered the mining world some 10 years ago.
I have watched Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Lindiwe Henricks, Buyelwa Sonjica and now Susan Shabangu come and go. I ask myself, did any of these ladies make a lasting impression? The answer is more a matter of opinion and you have yours and I have mine. But I will never forget sitting in a press conference (I can’t remember which one), watching with interest as Sonjica’s head dropped to her chest, her eyes drooping slowly shut, sleep beckoning and by all accounts succeeding. That particular moment for some reason has never left me although I did take it as indication of her interest levels.
Shabangu by comparison was extremely enthusiastic and always willing to share her views, but she seemed oblivious to the worsening mining situation around her. Her Indaba-opening delivery speeches always skirted and brushed over the serious issues staring her in the face as she highlighted the many DMR successes being achieved every year. I don’t think I need to go into any more detail.
So despite being a mining woman myself – I am excited to see a man take the stand. The industry needs an iron fist and some heavyweight action: attributes the majority of men can deliver easily. South Africa simply cannot continue to endure the effects of a strike which our grey hairs have never before seen in their mining lifetimes. Billions of rands have been lost in revenues and unearned salaries and this continues to escalate every day, every hour, every minute.
While I haven’t been to Rustenburg this yearI have heard the stories. What was once a thriving North West province monopoly is nothing more than a dying ghost town. Houses are being repossessed, businesses are closed and schools are trying to help feed hungry children. How could this situation get so completely out of control, over such a long period of time? What truly hit home for me was the recent announcement that the South African economy has shrunk by 0.6% in the first quarter as a result of the situation.
It’s true, I have spent the year looking at the mining positives – and don’t get me wrong, there are plenty to be found – but I simply cannot go another month without having my say on what some have termed, ‘The great mining depression’. In the interest of every South African I listen for the much needed employee/employer negotiations breakthrough and the start of the journey back to platinum mining greatness.