Where is Joseph Mathunjwa when you need him?

2014-08-13 14:49

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The absence of the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) was the obvious elephant in the room as practically all other major roleplayers in the mining industry held their annual mining lekgotla.

The lekgotla is a joint initiative of the Chamber of Mines, the department of mineral resources and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Joseph Mathunjwa’s Amcu had been invited, but had not accepted, the audience was reminded on more than one occasion today.

In their absence, rival unions did not refrain from taking pot shots at the new power in the mining sector.

Frans Baleni, the general secretary of the NUM, which has been largely displaced by Amcu in the platinum sector and parts of the gold sector, took a swipe at his rival.

“We live in an instant gratification society that produces political parties and unions over a few days,” he told the lekgotla.

“We tolerate and reward anarchy,” he added.

Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of Solidarity, complained that Amcu was still not part of the various stakeholder forums in the mining sector, but also lashed out at “destructive populists” and the intimidation that his union’s members have allegedly suffered at the hands of Amcu members.

Franz Stehring, head of mining at the union UASA went further, complaining that the extraordinary measures taken to intervene in the Amcu strike this year are like “enabling addicts”.

He complained about the absence of Amcu at this week’s event.

Recently appointed Minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi repeated his reassurance to the mining industry around the contentious Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill.

The bill has been passed by Parliament and now awaits the president’s signature.

The main problem, from mining companies’ viewpoint, is that it leaves crucial points open to ministerial discretion through regulations at some later point.

These include the terms on which mineral exports can be restricted to promote local beneficiation as well as the terms on which the state can participate in oil projects.

Today, Ramatlhodi repeated that his department recognised the uncertainties this causes.

“A bill can only be sent back to Parliament if it fails a constitutionality test,” he said.

“I am ready for any eventuality.”

“If it is passed in its current form, I commit to rigorous and transparent drafting of the regulations,” said Ramatlhodi to applause.

The minister also said that in the long term the target of the mining charter is to eliminate migrant labour to the mines entirely. For now the onus is on “decent” accommodation.

Meanwhile, Peter Temane, chairperson of the South African Mining Development Association (Samda) was swimming against the tide when he tried to turn the conversation to the issue of black shareholding in mines.

Samda had risen to prominence during the nationalisation debate in 2010 when its leadership argued for state intervention to transfer more mining assets to black investors.

“It’s not just about labour issues,” he said, citing the mining charter targets for 26% black ownership as well as separate targets for procurement from black suppliers by March this year.

“Can we say that 26% is owned by black people?”

Temane said black mining investors should have a pre-emptive right to buy mining assets that get divested by large mining companies.

“Will the government sit back and say ‘sell to whomever you want’,” he said in reference to Anglo American Platinum’s intended divestment of its Rustenburg platinum mines.

Temane’s statements were politely swept aside by both the minister and the Chamber of Mines.

However, the chamber’s Mike Teke noted that empowerment shareholders should also be carrying their weight during bad times by, for instance, participating in rights issues when a mining company needed cash.

Ramatlhodi replied that the black economic empowerment shareholders with their 26% stakes also have duties in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill.

When empowerment partners sell their own shares they should also do so in a way “consistent with the premise of black empowerment”, he said, meaning they should sell it to other black investors.

They should be “real operators” with the appropriate skills, he added.

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