By Andrew Lanham, Editor, Mining Review Africa

Susan Shabangu’s recent statement that South Africa needs a tax dispensation that will keep it competitive in the world stage needs to be welcomed. She was quoted as saying that the proposed resource rent should not become a tax burden on the mining industry. “It’s very important to us to continue to create certainty and stability in the mining industry. There is always an opportunity for improvement,” she said. There are many countries around the globe with attractive mineable mineral deposits, which often need foreign investment to bring them to account. Shabangu’s statement should do much to reassure investors who are understandably hesitant after South Africa’s recent mine nationalization debate.

Other developments in the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) are also sending out positive messages to the investment market. In the past, the process of applying for exploration and mining rights has sometimes left much to be desired. However, the Minister now tells us that the DMR’s online mineral rights application system is running smoothly.

What is also interesting is the question of lapsed mineral rights. Shabangu explained that she had decided to issue a proclamation in the Government Gazette, which would invite applications on revoked or lapsed rights. In this regard, rules that are aligned with the MPRDA would be clearly spelt out in the Gazette, the first round of bidding scheduled to take place before the end of June 2012.

More recently, the Minister spoke out very strongly against the practice of ‘fronting’ in the mining industry. Anyone indulging in the practice should heed the Minister’s opinions on this matter, as the proverbial writing is very clearly visible on the wall.

Regarding poverty in South Africa, I can’t offer any ready solutions not being qualified to address this issue. What has highlighted this recently is the saddening loss of life at De Beers’ Namaqualand Diamond Mines, where it is thought that at least 17 illegal miners have lost their lives.

The ground in which the miners were tunneling is not at all competent, being made up of unstable gravels and sand. These Namaqualanders who were illegally mining must have known that such as undertaking was perilous in the extreme. And yet unemployment most probably prompted them to risk their lives by burrowing into the diamondiferous gravels in search of a way to make some money.

In the past 20 years, there has been a growth of illegal mining all over Africa. And risks that people are prepared to take is staggering. An astonishing incident was reported to me recently from Konkola No 2 shaft on the Zambian Copperbelt. This shaft had been flooded for about 50 years. In the early 2000s, the shaft was dewatered. Last year, the owners set about stripping the rotten steelwork and installing new buntons and guides.

As the contractors worked their way cautiously down the 430-metre-deep shaft, they found that the locals had climbed down the old insecure shaft steelwork before them in order the steal the copper cable left behind in the shaft.

A spokesman for the engineering company concerned said that they hoped they would not find any human remains when the start de-mucking the shaft bottom in a couple of month’s time.

However, stealing cable is one thing. But in Czechoslovakia, enterprising thieves stole a ten-ton steel bridge that spanned a railway line. Apparently, the gang arrived with fake paperwork, which stated that the bridge and 650 metres of disused railway line had to be dismantled to make way for a cycle track.

Which goes to show that when it comes to the winning of resources, there is no end to peoples’ resourcefulness.