Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has his work cut out for him, taking over the reins from Ngoako Ramatlhodi at a time when the mining industry is in deep trouble but trying desperately to turn things around, says Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Mineral Resources Minister James Lorimer.
While the South African mining industry is still coming to terms with the shock cabinet reshuffle which saw the appointment of Mosebenzi Zwane as the new mineral resources Minister, Lorimer is left asking why President Jacob Zuma would choose to reshuffle this ministry just as government is set to begin the anticipated Mining Phakisa.
Mining Phakisa, a South African government initiative, is meant to be an intensive process of analysis by government and external experts on the mining industry’s challenges and has been designed to find ways to put South Africa’s ailing mining industry back on track. “In light of this, it is extremely unfortunate that the government would replace its key player in Mining Phakisa just before going into a discussion as important as this,” notes Lorimer.
He believes that the unfortunate cabinet reshuffle leads to one of two very depressing conclusions.
Either it means the government believes that that Operation Phakisa will not achieve its goals of finding a viable solution to the mining industry’s challenges as it will be nothing more than a ‘talk-shop’. Previous ‘talk-shops’ have proven that discussion alone is unable to fix the industry’s problems as active intervention over the mere discussion of problems is required.
Lorimer says that the reshuffle may also indicate that it doesn’t matter who fills the role of South Africa’s mining minister, because that person is not taking decisions. “It does not make sense to appoint someone that is ill-equipped to lead ahead of such an important time in the mining industry” he says.
Zwane has no past mining industry or cabinet experience having previously served as MEC in the portfolios of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs in the Free State provincial government. His two previous major appearances in the national media have been as a result of his involvement in the financially disastrous Vrede dairy project, which continues to lose money, and the invitation to South Africa by his Free State department to some of the Gupta wedding guests, says Lorimer.
Adding on to this, he says that if the person filling the position can be anybody, it means that the decisions are being taken by someone else. If not the minister making the decision, he suggests that the decisions are likely being made by someone with Luthuli House or within the Presidency.
“If this is the case, Lorimer questions who is making the decision and what quality are the decisions being made.
Meanwhile, the appointment of Zwane, ahead of Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant, who understands the mining sector, raised questions about why Zwane was appointed to the post, says James Lorimer, noting that the appointment may signal a change in approach by the Zuma administration.
The question then however becomes: What can Zwane deliver that could not be delivered by other ANC heavyweights who know something about mining?
When asked what would be the first thing on his agenda should he be elected mining minster, Lorimer said he would provide certainty for the South African mining industry by fixing the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA). “My aim would be to provide certainty to investors surrounding the conditions under which their investments will be operating,” he notes.
Lorimer’s next issue to address, although not a direct mining issue, would be to provide certainty with regards to labour relations, as he believes that government-linked trade unions are too powerful and have disadvantaged the industry, allowing productivity to slip.
“My contention is that while mining management has changed drastically over the years, unions have not changed and have remained largely militant in their response,” he says.
Lorimer said that he is not hopeful about the government’s response to the crisis in the mining industry, having been slow to realise that the crisis in the mining industry would also cause a jobs crisis, a balance of payments crisis and a tax revenue crisis.