FILE PHOTO: Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe.
JOHANNESBURG - Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said yesterday that the government would not appeal last week's court ruling on the once-empowered, always-empowered clause in the new mining charter.

Mantashe said his department would instead engage the industry on the crucial principle of "top up black empowerment levels if they fall below 26%".

“We are in discussions with the industry and we will come up with a formulation,” Mantashe told journalists on the sidelines of a platinum metals group executive breakfast in Johannesburg.

“My own view is not a blanket recognition of the past deals. I am known to hate speculation in mining. If you are speculating in mining then you are in the wrong place. We should not punish mining companies for speculators. Equally, I also don't think we should credit owners for dumping partners. Every case has to be judged on its merits.”

The decision follows last week's High Court ruling that mining companies didn't have to top up empowerment credits if they fell below 26percent, as required by the previous charter.

The Chamber of Mines and then mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi approached the courts after agreeing that their differences about the continuing consequences of past empowerment deals could only be resolved through a declaratory order by the court.

Mantashe said he was hopeful that a new charter would be unveiled in May as consultations were 80percent done.

Mantashe, who has been the minister for 44 days, also called for unity in the industry.

“I have found an industry in such doubt that it believes it is about to die. I have found an industry where suspicion and mistrust is at the highest level, and nobody trusts each other."

He also questioned whether the platinum industry was in crisis, despite concerns by executives that 60 percent of the industry was loss-making.

“My own diagnosis of the crisis in the platinum industry is relations with workers. When you do not have relations with your workers, when you are tied (in distress), they will not understand.”

Mantashe said forging relationships was a step to help workers become partners in mining companies and ensure that they were more understanding of difficult situations.

“In the platinum industry you saw the wave of strikes in the past few years. That tells you the story about the kind of relations we have. If we improve them (relationships), we will go a long way,” Mantashe added.

Paul Dunne, the Northam Platinum chief executive who spoke during a later session at the event, said most platinum companies were marginal.

“The quantum cash burn at industry level is very significant relative to market capitalisation and balance sheets."

Nico Muller, chief executive at Impala Platinum, the world's second-biggest platinum producer, concurred, saying the industry had been in crisis since 2008.

"We have not returned money to shareholders for many years. We are now getting into a crisis of epic proportions. I don't think it's new.”

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- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE