The two-day Mining Lekgotla in Johannesburg has kicked off, promising to address the challenges facing South Africa’s mining industry.

“We find ourselves at a crossroads where on the one hand, we need to address challenges around labour relations, operational competiveness, a volatile market and an increasingly divided national sentiment,” said Thandiwe Kweyama, Anglo American Southern Africa executive director, who gave the opening remarks.

“On the other hand, we need to continue growing the industry, driving meaningful community and infrastructure investments and developing partnerships and sustainable stakeholder relations. These are not issues that can be ‘quickly’ fixed overnight. It should also not be any one entity’s responsibility to find solutions to these complex challenges,” Kweyama added.

Seeing South Africa’s mining potential

During the welcome address, Chamber of Mines president Mike Teke argued that South Africa remains the world’s best mining location, while emphasising the importance of the industry to take stock of the past, including the Marikana tragedy and recent five-month platinum strike, and continue investing in the future of the country’s mining industry. “The past we acknowledge, the future we’ll build together,” he said.

“We are here today because of what we created twenty years ago; so let us reflect on this history, take what we need from it and focus on creating the future that we want for our people and for our country,” echoed Kweyama.

Ngoako Ramatlhodi, South African Mineral Resources Minister, added in his keynote address that “We collectively have a unique opportunity to change this industry for the better.” He stated that the country’s mineral wealth should benefit the majority of South Africans and that transformation is the only guarantee of long-term stability in the country.

Addressing problems in South Africa’s mining industry

Nevertheless, South Africa and its mining industry are still in a state of flux that can be attributed to some unresolved issues, Kweyama acknowledged at the Mining Lekgotla gala dinner on Wednesday night.

“We have recently experienced the clearest demonstration of that flux – in the form of the longest labour strike in our country’s history, being the recent 5-month long platinum labour strike. Another important and tragic turning point was an event which we will commemorate with great sadness – that of the untimely death of more than 30 mine workers and police officers at Marikana 2 years ago,” she said.

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said in a debate that the industry is currently being destroyed by poor leadership and destructive behaviour, affecting not only current jobs but also those of “our children’s children.” He called for a transformation of the country’s union leaders to improve the focus on members’ interests, business leaders to provided sustainable solutions and political leaders to set aside short-term political interests.

Chamber of Mines state intervention in the minerals sector committee chair Andile Sangqu pointed out that South Africa’s mining industry has a clear crisis to deal with. “The tensions in mining right now means the stakes are high and the need for resolution is urgent. This quite frankly is very serious.”

No blanket solutions for South Africa’s mining challenges

During a discussion about women in mining, another area where the lekgotla has identified a serious need for transformation, Virginia Tyobeka, head of human resources at Kumba Iron Ore, noted that “One size does not fit all. Sometimes we don’t focus on the right things or involve the right people… in terms of mind-set we have a long way to go.”

Nevertheless, Sangqu added that even a blanket solution “that works for everyone, no matter how painful that might be,” is preferential to impeding the growth of the mining industry, which has a direct impact on the growth of the national economy.

South Africa’s mining industry needs to consider at productivity, Sangqu added, since transformation is not possible without economic growth. Furthermore, the country’s labour force needs to recognise the role that productivity plays in job creation and industry growth, which does not benefit shareholders alone but all stakeholders in the industry.

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