South Africa's mining industry is focusing on a total of 60 mineral resources projects between 2018 and 2020, with an investment estimated value of R110 billion and a projected creation of 32 000 jobs.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said during his budget speech vote yesterday that the planned projects would involve exploration, expansion, new mines and processing plants which would be resuscitated to capture at least 5 percent of the $10bn (R141.8bn) a year global industry.

Mantashe said the industry was not on its deathbed, and the government was willing to invest more in the sector.

“Mining is a sunrise industry,” Mantashe said. “We must prospect, explore and exploit the world-class mineral deposits we have. We will resuscitate green field exploration. The investment will attract a minimum of R8bn into the exploration sector.”

Mantashe acknowledged the tough times facing the industry, citing the economy's 3.2 percent contraction in the first quarter of 2019.

He said mining production fell 10.8 percent during the quarter, contributing 0.8 percent to the overall decline which was prompted by, among other things, load shedding, electricity pricing and a five-month-long strike in the gold sector.

Mantashe said employment figures for the quarter, however, looked positive.

“Of the 22 000 jobs created, 6 000 are in mining,” he said. “We are talking to the industry to sustain these positive indications. Significant investments totalling R45bn and creating an estimated 4 000 permanent jobs, poured into the sector in the past year. Among them: R21.8bn by Vedanta Resources in the Northern Cape, Sasol’s R14bn mine replacement programme at Shondoni and Impumelelo in Mpumalanga, and Exxaro’s R3.3bn mine investment in Belfast, Mpumalanga.”

The state has set aside R20 million in the current financial year to develop an integrated licensing system over the coming two years.

Mantashe said significant strides had been made in processing the backlog in licence applications which collapsed under his predecessor, Mosebenzi Zwane, in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West regions.

“These offices have now been reopened. Turnaround times to process licence applications are under review,” he said. “Time-frames must be short, without having to effect major legislative amendments, by adopting more effective and efficient internal processes. This will ensure that we are more responsive to the needs and requirements of our applicants.”

Mantashe said beneficiation efforts for local communities were under way, with state-owned Mintek spearheading the process to develop a rare earth element manufacturing industry expected to meet the global demand for rare earth elements used in applications for electric vehicles and wind turbine generators.

He said following an initial investment of R100m, the government was investing an additional R150m to revive the declining ferroalloys sector.