Two decades of mining: a story of extremes

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The gold mining industry in South Africa is a fraction of what it used to be 20 years ago, while the platinum sector has grown substantially – certainly as far as jobs are concerned.

But analysts are worried about the bigger picture. Analyst Peter Major says one has to remember that mining relies on finite resources.

“Too many people are tinkering with this mining behemoth that they always took for granted. (It’s) like maybe inheriting your parents’ car: it’s always been around and you’re hot-rodding the hell out of it and you don’t think this things has got a lot of miles on it and you’ve actually got to treat it delicately. You’ve got to pull maintenance on it. You have to keep inspecting it. You can’t just run it, run it, and never check the oil, never check the air conditioner, never check the water.”

One of the greatest challenges for investors has been legislative impediments, but legal analyst Peter Leon says this can be overcome.

“The criteria in the law should be set out very clearly, as they are in Botswana. So the conditions of the granting of a licence aren’t a matter of conjecture, or having to consult with your lawyers, or having a debate with the department of mineral resources about where or not you have complied with the law. But that the conditions are set out clearly in the law. The second thing is that there should be compulsory time periods in the law and making of decisions as you have in the competition act in this country.”

Leon speaks of the fact that the relationship between organised labour and big business has deteriorated to the extent that there is now a broken social contract.

“It is absolutely incumbent upon all of us to rebuild that social contract. That contract involves obviously the mining industry and mineworkers, but also involved the government and mine communities. And that there is an understanding that everyone works together in the best interest of the industry. Now, that hasn’t happened.”

International stakeholders are asking critical questions of the sector, and London-based analyst Razia Khan says while South Africa’s minerals will always be in demand, smaller mining companies suffer the most when there are negative investor sentiments.

“Critics of the sector will ask: why is it that 20 years after the receipt of freedom in South Africa the basic economic structure has not changed” It’s still reliant on migrant labour, it still has a basic structure that is not that distinguishable from what existed during Apartheid.”

To listen to the full interview with Khan, click below.

At the heart of mining lies labourers and, after a historic strike of more than 5 months, platinum workers are back at work and their union leader, Joseph Mathunjwa, says the agreement reached is a victory.

“Workers will believe the leadership of AMCU and in its objectives as the union that listened to its memberships. The union that respects the mandate of its members.”

For a full interview between SABC Contributing Editor Vuyo Mvoku and Mathunjwa, click below.

The labour issue has been very contentious for South Africa. The Chamber of mines’ senior executive for industrial relations, Dr Elize Strydom, says the protracted strike in the platinum sector placed all of this in the spotlight.

Motsamai Motlhamme, the deputy head for Industrial Relations and Community Development at the Chamber of Mines, says that while wages were at the heart of the recent unprecedented platinum strike, workers and communities’ living conditions are an important role-player in general social disenfranchisement.

Part of the societal impact of mining is its impact on the environment. Nikisi Lesufi, Senior Executive for Health and Environment at the Chamber of Mines, says issues such as acid mine drainage should be seen in context.

The one aspect of mining that has registered massive success in the past 20 years is that of safety and security, as Sietse van der Woude, head of safety and sustainable development at the chamber of mines explains.

To listen to the full audio interviews with the Chamber of mines, as well as view a shortened video interview, click below.

– By Christelle du Toit