By Laura Cornish

Providing the opening keynote address at this year’s Joburg Mining Indaba, Honourable minister advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi, minister of the department of mineral resources, was quick to reiterate the importance South Africa’s mining sector to the country’s economy.

“The mining industry is the alpha and omega of South Africa’s economy. It has shaped our industry’s past and continues to define our future,” he started.

Ramatlhodi spent the subsequent 40 minutes of his talk acknowledging some of the key issues the sector is struggling with at present, further admitting he is also aware of the possible “disinvestment” in the industry. Speaking openly and honestly could be considered progressive for a mining minister in light that his predecessors preferred the ‘ostrich head in the sand’ approach.

Labour unrest

“Strikes are not a uniquely South African phenomenon. But when they run into periods exceeding five months, it must serve as a wake-up call to all stakeholders. It puts the efficacy of regulatory institutions into question. The cost to the industry and economy has been beyond words with recent figures revealing that in the first quarter, sales of total minerals declined by 24.7%. This narrowed to 9.6% in the second quarter,” Ramatlhodi outlined.

The minister paid gratitude to “all those who made it possible to find resolution to the platinum strike noting that through its resolution success, the country demonstrated its ability to overcome insurmountable challenges through dialogue.” It is this message of dialogue that Ramatlhodi reiterated as South Africa’s strength in being able to address any challenges.

Investment

Government is aware that investment is dependent on regulatory policy framework Ramatlhodi highlights. “The amendment of the minerals bill is sitting with the president as we speak and resolutions are expected soon.”

“What we don’t want is a situation of cold comfort where we arrive at arrangements that remain contested. If we have a boil we should open it.” Discussing the issue of “disinvestment” further, the minister compared the situation to a hippo lying below the water. “You don’t know what lies beneath the water, only seeing its ears and nose, and therefore don’t know the extent of the situation. But, when the industry is planning listings, I want to be taken into full confidence well ahead of time so that I can assist to manage the process. We must work together in this respect.”

“We are currently looking at mining charter compliance and we are seeking to establish a common goal between ourselves and industry so there are no different interpretations regarding the outcomes. We hope that at the end of that process we can take remediable actions with industry to ensure stability in the industry, comfort amongst the communities, workers who are happy people and investors who yield something from their investments. We should all be striving for that atmosphere.”

Safety

The minister also addressed safety, noting that South Africa’s statistic has improved and casualties reduced to a minimum. “The larger issue at hand however is TB, currently the biggest killer in the sector in South Africa. This is amounting to a national crisis and is largely associated with safety clothing. We need to bring this under control. We are losing skills as workers get which is impacting on maintaining acceptable production levels.”

In conclusion, Ramatlhodi emphasized the need for industry and government to hold hands and broaden participation at ownership, management, procurement and operations, for the country’s black counterparts.

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