President Jacob Zuma 
Johannesburg, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 01 June 2009 – South African President Jacob Zuma says he plans to focus on enforcing safety measures to curb mining deaths which have hurt output, and to review black ownership in the country’s mining industry.

In a speech delivered to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) here, the new president added that he would ensure that local communities benefited from mining activities in their areas.

“We need to vigorously support and entrench a culture of zero harm in this industry … the safety record of our mines has become a central issue that will be placed under government scrutiny,” he told union members.

Reuters reports that last week alone, at least nine workers died in mining operations across the country. In 2008, the total fatality figure amounted to 168 workers, and a recent safety audit showed mine safety compliance in South Africa was below target at just 66 percent.

Mining companies have suffered production losses after fatalities due to routine shutdowns ordered by the government for investigations, and work stoppages by union members who have vowed to stop work for a day to mark each death of colleagues.

Zuma split the minerals and energy portfolios when forming his cabinet last month in a bid to give more focus to the issues facing each industry. “People feel that despite progressive legislation, the mining industry and government are not doing enough to ensure that they, too, fully reap the benefits of the mining activities that are taking place,” he declared.

New mining minister, Susan Shabangu will be overseeing the first major review of the Mining Charter – a five-year-old agreement aimed at bringing more black ownership to mining and reversing decades of exclusion under white apartheid rule.

Zuma pointed out that only a few of the black economic empowerment initiatives had been successful, and urged the unions, industry and the local communities to take an active part in the review. "This will assist to address this simmering unhappiness in many parts of our country, he said.