'Cartels are stealing our nation's wealth'
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A day after President Thabo Mbeki made peace with Anglo American boss Tony Trahar, one of his deputy ministers has lashed out at "rich white cartels" that "loot" the country's mineral wealth and monopolise the industry.
During a heated debate in the National Assembly on black economic empowerment on Tuesday, Minerals and Energy Deputy Minister Lulu Xingwana appeared to lose her temper.
She launched a scathing attack on "rich white cartels that are continuing even today to loot our diamonds, taking them to London, that are continuing today to monopolise the mining industry".
Xingwana's outburst in the chamber comes just days after the president's vociferous criticism of Trahar, the Anglo American chief executive, accusing him of "bad-mouthing" South Africa in an interview with the London-based Financial Times.
Anglo American earlier yesterday welcomed a statement by the African National Congress suggesting that the rift had been mended after Mbeki and Trahar spoke on the telephone on Monday.
But, during a debate on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) called by the Democratic Alliance in the national assembly yesterday afternoon, Xingwana departed from her speech to launch a tirade against Nigerian-born DA MP Enyinna Nkem-Abonta who opened the debate.
"I want to thank Mr Nkem-Abonta for his bright ideas, but I do think that millions of black people, who are poor and suffering, where he comes from need him.
"And I do think that he should not have run away, he should have worked very hard to ensure that the whole of Africa is able to be empowered," Xingwana said.
DA Chief Whip Douglas Gibson interrupted Xingwana on a point of order that the deputy minister's remarks about Nkem-Abonta was "quite clearly an example of xenophobia", arguing that his country of origin was "of no consequence" and suggesting that her comments were "racist".
Evidently enraged by Gibson's criticism, Xingwana said: "I think the racist, right-wing Democratic Alliance are the ones that are racist.
"The honourable member (Nkem-Abonta) stood here to talk about black men and black masses - he did not mention the white millionaires and billionaires that had enriched themselves by stealing our mineral wealth in this country and by developing rich white cartels that are continuing even today to loot our diamonds, taking them to London, that are continuing today to monopolise the mining industry."
Deputy Speaker Gwen Mahlangu, who was presiding over the debate, interrupted Xingwana and ordered her to "concentrate on black economic empowerment" - the subject of the debate.
Xingwana retorted that "this is all about black economic empowerment", but immediately started reading from her prepared speech.
The deputy minister's off-the-cuff remarks came after Nkem-Abonta said DA proposals for reforms to government's BEE policy included scorecard regulations which "explicitly rule out any empowerment deals with black billionaires and millionaires".
Following Mbeki's widely publicised attack on Trahar last Friday and the ensuing shuttle diplomacy between government and Anglo American over the weekend, the mining giant on Tuesday welcomed an earlier public statement by the ANC after the telephonic discussion on Monday between Mbeki and Trahar.
"Anglo American appreciates Monday evening's ANC statement accepting Anglo American's bona fides in the matter of correcting negative perceptions about South Africa," Anglo American said in a statement on Tuesday.
"The company reasserts its commitment to South Africa and its full confidence in the country's political leadership," the statement said, adding that Anglo currently had new approved investments in South Africa of R26-billion.
The statement also said that it had reinvested over R100-billion in South Africa since January 1999.
Mbeki slammed Trahar in his weekly online letter ANC Today last Friday after the Anglo American CEO said in a recent interview with the Financial Times: "I think the South African political risk issue is starting to diminish - although I am not saying it is gone."
In a 3 000-word letter, Mbeki lashed out at Trahar saying: "Both the ANC and the government would not know what political risk Mr Trahar is talking about...
"Was Mr Trahar making the statement that, 10 years after our liberation, we have just begun to convince some important people that we are not the barbarians they thought we were?
"It is most unfortunate that we still have others in our country who engage in conveying the negative images about ourselves," Mbeki said.
Inkatha Freedom Party spokesperson Reverend Musa Zondi said the spat between Mbeki and the Anglo chief executive would only serve to cause jitters in the corporate world and undermine investor confidence.