The Government continued to hide behind a veil of mourning and honouring Marikana’s dead yesterday and refused to countenance questions about what it was doing to prevent the destabilisation of the entire platinum industry with a possible spillover of illegal strike action and violence to other mines.
At yesterday’s media briefing after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi insisted that the government had to get its “facts and figures” right first before it could comment on what action it would take to prevent a spread of wildcat industrial relations causing difficulties at mines.
“The cabinet is wary to make statements that are not thoroughly analysed and processed.” Imploring journalists not to seek headlines of the following news items, Manyi implored them “to rather wait for the facts and [we] will respond henceforth after that”.
Noting that President Jacob Zuma had called the week of mourning to honour the people killed at Lonmin’s mine last week, Manyi said the president had been “very clear… let us not have finger pointing”.
When one journalist repeated the question about what preventative action government was taking, Manyi said: “You sounded very angry… you do sound very angry. In government you know… when the president has spoken we listen. The president has been clear on mourning. [The] cabinet is endorsing this position. Our view of government should be to respect that.”
Pressed on whether the president would himself be meeting the striking miners, Manyi said Zuma had already visited injured mineworkers in hospital and even as the briefing was on, the president was making his way back to Rustenburg. It is not clear whether the president intended to meet the miners, particularly those who are allied to the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
“I don’t have [the president’s] schedule, but I am told [he] is on his way back to Marikana. The president is taking it seriously… very seriously,” Manyi said.
On whether the government was taking the potential damage to the mining industry lightly, Manyi said: “This is a very emotional matter. I can understand the emotions of journalists… as [the] government we have the responsibility to handle it in a most sensitive way. There are a whole range of ministers camping in Marikana to provide a lot of support to the families.”
In the parliamentary debate on the tragedy on Tuesday, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said she had not heard of Amcu until “the incidents”. Maybe nobody told the minister that Amcu has been around for about 12 years and has negotiating rights at a number of mines.
Jimmy Manyi believes the earliest the public can get a glimpse of the Mineral Resources Department-led task team report into hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking – for shale gas in the Karoo basin, is likely to be at the next cabinet meeting in two weeks on Wednesday, September 5.
Yesterday’s cabinet statement said: “This matter is now at cabinet and is receiving full cabinet attention. The minister [of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu] will, thereafter, brief all stakeholders.
Asked if the moratorium would be lifted and whether exploration was likely to get the nod – as is widely expected as Energy Minister Dipuo Peters has already publicly described South Africa’s possible shale gas reserves as a gift from God – Manyi would not be drawn on any details.
Bloomberg reported last week that Shabangu said a technical report on shale gas fracking, which extracts gas using water and chemicals under extreme pressure, would be released by the end of the month. “Give me two weeks, we’re almost there.”
Pressed for a second time on whether the moratorium on exploration for shale gas, which was imposed early last year, would be lifted, Manyi said: “I have to say one more word on this. I would be jumping the gun… [the] cabinet is trying to get a diamond out of the coal.”
He explained the metaphor that when one wanted to create a diamond from coal, it required intense heat first to change it into graphite and then, subject to the oven door not being opened prematurely, it turned into a diamond.
“We are not at a diamond stage yet [on fracking],” he reported. Manyi pleaded “for a bit of indulgence” for the government from the media to give it time to process the report from the ministry and then, ultimately, to report to stakeholders.
Foreign exchange profits from exports of wine to the UK have been hit by a switch by British importers from wine in bottles to bulk imports that they bottle themselves, saving money in transport costs. They also pay our exporters less and it was suggested yesterday in Parliament that South Africa hit back by insisting that imports of Scotch whisky should also be in bulk for bottling here, a suggestion that must shock whisky connoisseurs to the core.
The UK switch has horrified wine connoisseurs, imagining that some of the country’s finest vintages are also subjected to the indignity of being sold in bulk.
Reassuringly, this is not so. Our best wines, which regularly win gold medals at annual competitions overseas, are appreciated as they should be, although Su Birch, the chief executive of Wines of South Africa – the export promotions agency for the industry – commented that the exchange rate meant they were “fantastic value” for overseas buyers.
But at least our wines are not subjected to bulk sales in the growing market for imported wines in China. Wine producers were told at a recent seminar in Stellenbosch that Chinese customers wanted their imported wines in heavy bottles with corks and not screw tops. Reassuringly, too, Jan Scannell, the managing director of liquor group Distell, said yesterday that an association with a large importer had led to satisfactory profits from the UK market.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Donwald Pressly and Audrey D’Angelo.