Wasn’t it only yesterday that South Africa was welcoming Ngoako Ramatlhodi as the Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) new mining minister?

By: Laura Cornish, editor of Mining Review Africa

That is what it feels like to me, although in reality Ramatlhodi was appointed in May last year. Fast forward to the present and the mining industry must contend with another major challenge (amongst numerous others) as they return to the starting blocks with Mosebenzi Zwane, our new mining minister as of September – and frankly, an unknown entity who has been shoved into the spotlight.

Honestly, Ramatlhodi’s exit still saddens me. In the space of just 16 months he had put South Africa’s critical issues on the table and was working with industry to address them. The ‘once empowered, always empowered’ BEE Mining Charter legislation being of the most hotly contended issues which the advocate was unafraid to deal with and take to court.

Unfortunately, 16 months was not enough time to find resolution on anything. No mining-related issues or challenges have ever been solved within such a short timeframe. And so, in my mind, Ramatlhodi’s mining legacy has been cut off at the knees.

Nonetheless, I still applaud him for being one of the only mining ministers, which I have seen, to fight for the industry and the best interests of its people. A bold statement yes but my personal history has seen five different ministers in the position – Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka, Lindiwe Hendricks, Buyelwa Sonjica, Susan Shabangu, Ngoako Ramatlhodi and now Mosebenzi Zwane – all within just 10 years.

But let me focus on our new minister. His appointment was met with such shock – who is he? Where does he come from, and why an unknown entity in what is unarguably one of South Africa’s greatest periods of industry struggle? These questions have been answered and for those of you who remain in the dark, let me enlighten you.

Zwane’s trained profession is teaching and prior to his mining appointment was an MEC for agriculture, tourism and economic development in the Free State province. He is also controversially linked to the Gupta family who have interests in the mining sector and a close relationship with President Jacob Zuma. Opinions were quickly formed on the back of his rash appointment, based on perceptions and nothing more.

Harmony Gold Doornkop Mosebenzi ZwaneImpressively, Zwane has chosen not to rest on his laurels and has already made his first official public appearance, and the media were invited! On 20 October he visited Harmony Gold’s Doornkop mine near Randfontein (see right photograph).

Remarkably, he donned the mining gear (overall, hard hat, rescue pack, etc.) and made the journey underground – 2 km below the surface – where he engaged with workers, experienced first-hand the refuge bay safety protocol and took to a hot and humid working stope.

Three hours later he sat alongside Harmony CEO Graham Briggs who also partook in the underground visit and delighted the media with his first statement and the opportunity to ask questions. Proudly, I must point out that Mining Review Africa was THE ONLY trade publication in attendance; alongside TV crews, newspapers and of courses the wires.

The minister did not disappoint either. He is young (I believe), confident, well-spoken and unafraid to offer his views. He is also up to speed regarding the industry’s status, its challenges and those initiatives Ramatlhodi had put into motion.

Although unable to provide definitive answers regarding the way forward on these initiatives, Zwane boldly stated his intention to continue what Ramatlhodi had started. ‘We will meet with investors and renew investor confidence in South Africa and we will engage with industry and put to rest their uncertainties,’ he emphasised.

How he plans to do so is yet to be seen but one thing is clear, our new mining minister is taking a stand on industry hot topics and he wants everyone to know.

At the end of the briefing Zwane’s true passion was clear – transformation. He has the best interest of ‘the people’ at heart and is determined to provide opportunities to those who have not yet felt any transformation reward. ‘I believe the current commodity recession can present opportunities for transformation as companies look to give their assets back to the ministry. We can use these assets to fast-track transformation,’ Zwane revealed.

The viability of such an action plan is full of holes at this stage, but perhaps with time will become more clear. Again, time is required to implement any change or cement and conclude any plans. We can only wait and watch…

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