Cape Town. 120821. Susan Shabangu. National Assembly held a memorial/debate over the events that occured at Lonmin mine. Picture Courtney Africa

For the most part, the government and Anglo American have had a love-hate relationship. An example that stands out was the September 2004 stand-off over the political risks associated with South Africa.

Former president Thabo Mbeki lashed out at Tony Trahar, the then chief executive, who was quoted in the Financial Times as saying: “I think the South African political risk issue is starting to diminish – although I am not saying it has gone.”

The ANC president was infuriated by this comment and vented his anger in the weekly newsletter, ANC Today, on the ANC website. Mbeki wrote: “The company developed and grew in our country, and region, during the period of the highest political risk. Nevertheless, it thought it made good business sense to continue to expand its operations in our country, both before and throughout the years of apartheid rule.”

He continued: “Such patently obvious political risk as existed then, neither drove it offshore nor diminished its appetite to expand its operations in our country.”

Mbeki added that the defeat of apartheid had been a factor of material importance and benefit to Anglo American, qualitatively expanding the possibilities for the company to become a global player.

The broadside was prompted by Trahar’s response to suggestions that Anglo might lose ties to its South African roots, given its expanding global reach.

Mbeki said: “Is this the risk that persuaded Anglo American that it should list and re-domicile in London, while speaking to us only about the size of the capital markets?”

He added that throughout the colonial and apartheid years, Anglo American did not seek a London listing, and did nothing that would generate speculation about the future of its Johannesburg head office.

Anglo American Platinum (Angloplat) is a very important contributor to the South African fiscus. In 2011, it contributed R1.9 billion in corporate tax, R10.7bn in wages and R1.5bn in employee tax.

The row between Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and Anglo over the closure of platinum shafts is again about the company’s exposure to South Africa, which investors feel must be cut.

On Tuesday, Anglo American issued a statement, saying that Angloplat’s review of its business had been announced in February 2012 and it was a strategy to create a sustainable, competitive and profitable platinum business for the long-term benefit of all its stakeholders.

Shabangu said she was shocked by Angloplat’s announcement that it would be restructuring and cutting jobs, which ought not to have been necessary at all.

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, along with the American bank JP Morgan, founded the Anglo American Corporation, a gold mining company, in 1917 with £1 million (R14m at yesterday’s rate), raised from British and American sources. This is how it derived its name.

Anglo became the majority shareholder in De Beers in 1926. Two years later, Anglo began mining in the Zambian copper belt.

In 1945, Anglo moved into the coal industry by acquiring Coal Estates. Twelve years later, in 1957, Sir Ernest died and was succeeded by his son, Harry, who also became the chairman of De Beers.

After that, the rest is history as the company grew to be the biggest diversified conglomerate in the country, which ceased after 1994 when Anglo sold some of its less prized assets in order to concentrate on its core mining business.

This gave rise to AngloGold Ashanti and African Rainbow Minerals, led by mining magnate Patrice Motsepe.