Scramble to ease mining fears

2013-05-26 14:00

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State to announce committee to calm fears of uncertainty in the volatile sector

The government will this week announce the formation of a powerful committee with the job of calming fears around the country’s volatile mining industry.

The committee will consist of National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile; his mineral resources counterpart, Thibedi Ramontja; as well as the chief executives of the platinum and gold sectors’ three biggest players.

There are also plans for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to sit down with both the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) to discuss the sector’s wage talks.

Talks have been formally opened in the gold sector, and platinum industry discussions are set to begin soon.

The committee’s formation follows a secretive emergency meeting in Pretoria on Friday afternoon at which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, officials from the Chamber of Mines and mining company chief executives gathered to discuss the wage talks.

“We spoke for a long time about the effect that signs of instability in the mining industry are having on the exchange rate,” Shabangu told City Press on Friday evening.

Last week Gordhan and Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus both publicly identified the mining industry as the leading cause of uncertainty in the economy.

President Jacob Zuma warned that fractious labour relations at the country’s mines could “wreck the economy”.

Gold and platinum comprise 60% of South Africa’s exports, and every strike in these industries instantly affects the country’s trade balance.

The flurry of activity comes days before Shabangu is due to deliver her budget-vote speech in Parliament this week, although it was initially scheduled for last Wednesday.

Some pundits have suggested she wanted to broker some sort of deal in the mining sector so she could deliver good news in Parliament.

But Motlanthe’s attempts to get Amcu and the NUM around the same table may have taken a knock after Shabangu on Friday used her speech at the NUM’s central executive committee conference to publicly lash Amcu.

Shabangu sped from her Pretoria meeting with Gordhan to address the meeting in Centurion, where she launched a vitriolic attack on the “forces” besieging the NUM.

Despite being the government minister primarily tasked with defending peace in the mining industry, she unequivocally threw her weight behind the struggling NUM.

While hardly using the name Amcu, she railed against those “determined to use every trick in the book permanently to defeat you (NUM) and remove you literally from the face of the earth”.

“This is being done with the ultimate goal of ensuring that no progressive trade union will be present in the mining sector that shares the same ideological orientation as the congress movement,” she said.

“It is only those who are wilfully blind who will not see that these forces, by extension, want to realise one major objective: ultimately, to defeat and dislodge the ANC from power.”

Shabangu went on to bemoan that “19 years after democracy, we (are dealing) with ‘trade unions’ whose actions amount to an attack on the universal principles of the freedom of association, assembly and speech”.

“It can also never be correct that marches are being held to urge management to close the offices of other ‘minority’ trade unions,” she said in reference to the anti-NUM strike at Lonmin two weeks ago.

»See Shabangu backs NUM, but calls for union peace, Business

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