Mamphela Ramphele, the chairwoman of Gold Fields, got to the nub of the matter during the Mining Indaba this week. The majority of the world’s citizens, she said, did not benefit from their countries’ mineral resources as the taxes from mining revenues vanished into “the black hole that is the central fiscus and end up funding large rural estates for presidents”.
There is no guessing who she was referring to. It was our president and his Nkandla rural estate. The problem with our government is that there are just too many question marks hanging over the head of state and his financial affairs.
We still have a commission of inquiry into the now ancient arms deal from which the president may – or may not – have benefited. The courts have never found him guilty of anything, but somehow he hasn’t been let off the hook.
Even if the president is entirely wrongly accused of benefiting from that deal, he presides over a government that appears to do little at all about corruption.
He and his ministers say a lot about rooting it out, but ministers continue to emulate John Pierpont “JP” Morgan’s lifestyle. I choose a dead person, who was not corrupt but was awfully rich, to avoid embroiling a living person in the comparison.
We have Dina “Red Shoes” Pule embroiled in a scandal about a partner who allegedly benefited enormously from the communications indaba last year.
John Block, who holds the finance portfolio – of all things – in the Northern Cape government, still holds on to his job despite a long inquiry into his affairs.
He may be entirely innocent of the charges against him, but they are serious enough, surely, to have warranted a suspension from public office while the inquiries and legal proceedings are being carried out.
It seems our ruling party politicians are untouchable. They do not suffer the indignities of ordinary citizens. There is the rule of law only for the lowly and the meek.
National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel may be right that mining finance chases the resource, irrespective of the political environment. Despite the Taliban, there were mines in Afghanistan, he argued at the indaba.
He could have said that despite the perceived corruption of many in our government at national and provincial level, international mining companies were still extracting gold, platinum, diamonds and iron ore from our soil. Of course, he did not refer to political corruption in any way – it would have been far too politically incorrect as he owes his job to the president – but he would have been only partly right if he had said it.
Yes, of course, mining still takes place and will continue to take place on the platinum belt around Rustenburg in the wake of Marikana. Mining investment will also take place despite our government, despite many a dodgy politician.
But a prevailing theme of the indaba was that mining companies are scaling back investment in South Africa. Some, with significant South African assets, are contemplating splitting up their domestic and international operations.
One or two are opting out of investment in South Africa altogether. Even Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, who has tried to be upbeat about the defeat of nationalisation, acknowledged that in recent months mining jobs have shrunk.
One suspects that if the fortunes of the mining industry improve in the years ahead, it will have little to do with the politicians who now preside over us.