This has been an interesting issue to write and assemble. For one of the articles in this edition, my colleague Lionel Williams spoke to De Beers’ chief executive officer Phillip Barton about the company’s plans to take Venetia underground. This is effectively going to be a new mine and is why the project is going to consume a record amount of capital.
I will be interested to hear more of the technical side of how this project is going to be undertaken, as DBCM releases the details.
From my side, compiling the article on the platinum crisis was stimulating – and rather worrying. Examining the problem is rather like peeling an onion – it has many successive layers.
Subsequent to writing the article, I heard a speech by the renowned academic and political thinker Dr Steven Friedman to an accounting organisation. He pointed out that one of the problems underlying the current labour unrest is the problem of the unsecured loan business in this country.
It is understandable that post 1994, many people have expectations of improved lifestyles. To buy the things that go with this lifestyle, the temptation to take out a shortterm loan is great. I am sure that these loans are taken out with the full intention of repaying them. However, what the lenders, I believe, do not always understand are the consequences of taking these loans.
Bloomberg published in Moneyweb recently stated: ‘More than 9.2 million consumers had impaired credit records in the second quarter, accounting for 47 percent of people using bank loans, from 8.8 million a year earlier, the central bank said. High levels of consumer indebtedness may have been one of the factors behind violent wage strikes that shut down gold and platinum production at some of South Africa’s mines for two months, the National Credit Regulator said Oct. 10.’
The frustration of having the good life almost within one’s grasp, but not being able to actually grasp it is a cumulative dissatisfaction.
On a different tack and another story, what was really interesting for me was having the chance to visit Barbrook mine. The Anglo Americans of this world may be the major players, but in terms of interest, smaller miners such as Vantage Goldfields are the most interesting.
I visited Barbrook nine years ago when it was owned by Caledonia and came away feeling a bit sad for the owners. It was apparent that if they had a bit more money they could have invested in a solution to their problems. For example, the mine manager said he was constrained by a lack of development. And it wasn’t as though this mine had no reserves. For a shallow mine, the grades of about five grams a tonne should have made for a successful operation.
Now, owned by Vantage, this looks set to change. First of all, the company has the small but profitable Lily mine a stone’s throw from Barbrook, so there is cash flow.
It also is listed on the ASX. However, I could sense Dr Willo Stear’s frustration with the company’s share price, which does not reflect its net asset value. His colleague and general manager Mike Begg explained that Australian shareholders have also been scared off South African investments by words such as ‘nationalization’, ‘higher taxes’ and ‘resource rents’.
Currently, Vantage employs about 750 people and, if only for the sake of more jobs in Mpumalanga, it would be good to see it succeed. At the end of the visit, I came away thinking that I could not see any reason, apart from the global lack of investment interest in emerging miners, why it shouldn’t.