Donwald Pressly

If a mineral resource was available in sufficient quantities, it would be mined, irrespective of the political context in which it occurred, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel told delegates at the African Mining Indaba yesterday.

He also said outgoing Anglo American chief executive Cynthia Carroll had the message right about the responsibility of the mining sector to transform itself, which he said should be the benchmark for all mining companies.

During the session to discuss the role of the National Development Plan (NDP) in encouraging investment in mining in South Africa, he was pressed a number of times on what arguments he could provide for investors to invest in mining. Manuel said he did not know “of much in the mining industry that provides instant gratification”. Yet if there was a resource available, “miners would go there”.

Manuel, who is chairman of the national planning commission which drew up the NDP, said he had recently watched a television programme about a group of geophysicists who worked in “the exceedingly harsh climates” of Afghanistan. Despite the presence of the Taliban, mining firms remained there because “it is the resource that they want”.

Asked what it was that would encourage investors to enter the volatile mining industry in South Africa, Manuel deflected the question.

“One of the things we must recognise is that [cheap] energy in this country was a kind of cherry on the top,” he said, in reference to relatively low electricity prices during the 1990s and early part of the 2000s. But he said that when mining initially took place “from 1867”, there was strong investment in the mining sector. It was not because energy was cheap “but because the resource was here”.

Manuel praised Carroll, who steps down in favour of Mark Cutifani later this year, for her 10-point commitment made last year.

The industry needed to redouble its efforts to achieve “zero harm”. Miners should be guaranteed “the ability to go home safe to their families at the end of the working day”.

The industry should commit itself to promote health in the workplace and in the community. Mining should be a positive force in the environment. There should be a renewed commitment to employment equity in the industry. “It is time for us to deliver on what we have promised and to move beyond compliance to true transformation,” she said.

There should be a commitment to support education and skills development, and a commitment to use the power of mining to create jobs and reduce unemployment.

There was also a need to complete the transformation of the ownership of the industry, and a commitment was needed to improve housing for employees. Local procurement was key to support businesses while there should be a commitment to be transparent.

Manuel urged the mining sector to follow Carroll’s lead.

Harsh language between the government and the private sector needed to be toned down.