High time for state control, say black miners

2010-10-09 14:21

‘I’m not doing it for the money,” says mining boss ­Bridgette Radebe as she hits back at critics who ­recently labelled her an opportunist for supporting state ­intervention in the sector.

“What’s in it for me is to make sure the country benefits from the mines,” she says.

Radebe showed her hand at the ANC’s national general council last month when she supported the call for a state mining company, going as far as to tell the ruling party that she was prepared to give away her own mines to get the initiative under way.

“I’m not looking for money,” she told City Press this week, “I just don’t want to die in a country that is full of ghost towns created by the big companies who explore, extract and exploit. I want to change that.

What’s so awful about that?

“Would people prefer if I sat back and accepted a situation in which 91% of the mining sector is owned by foreign-listed monopolies who are the new colonialists?” she asks.

The 50-year-old businesswoman is the wife of Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and the older sister of Patrice ­Motsepe, South Africa’s first black dollar-billionaire.

Peter Temane, the country’s first black diamond-mining entrepreneur and director of Masingita Mines, supports Radebe when she says that “South Africa has become a country in which the majority is now protecting the rights of the minority”.

So why weren’t these ideas floated in 1994 when the ­developmental state began to bud?

Temane says: “We’ve been saying this for the past 10 years but nobody has been listening. They’re only listening now because people are becoming impatient.

“Nationalisation and the state mining company are only on the table because the mining sector in particular, and the economy in general, has not transformed.”

The irony is that it’s the state itself that is responsible for the current situation.

When the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act was overhauled in 2003, it made the state the custodian but not the owner of the ­country’s mineral rights, and therefore it could only ­regulate the sector but not determine ownership.

Compounding the problem is the fact that ­economic transformation which should have come about when transferring ­old-order mining rights to new is “only ­discretionary and not ­mandatory”, explains mining lawyer Peter ­Tshisevhe of law firm ­Edward Nathan Sonnenberg.

To top it all, the monitoring of BEE has been at best poor these past few years.

“So that’s why we look worse today than we did in 1994,” says Radebe.

Then, just over 80% of the sector was controlled by a minority. “Now it’s 91%,” she says.

But why is there any reason to believe that increased state involvement will make the situation any better if ­government has presided over its deterioration until now?

“Consider coal,” says Sipho Dube, the country’s first black coal-mining entrepreneur, who is the director of ­Endulwini.

“India is currently looking around for a lot of coal and there is nothing to stop it from coming in here and buying up ours, leaving us with poor quality coal for ourselves.

“But if we had a ‘big brother’ kind of monopoly in the coalfields, we could make sure that the better quality coal is being sold to Eskom.

“And if Eskom is working off better quality coal, then it would have a good impact on the supply of electricity and should help us begin talking about more economical tariffs in the future.

“Remember that increased state intervention doesn’t have to scare off investors either,” he adds.

Radebe points to the success of the Royal Bafokeng ­Nation – the 300 000-strong population which has mostly been living off the royalties of the region’s strategic ­platinum reserves since 1990 – as another reason why the state should begin to mine sooner rather than later.

Temane points to Norway, where the state took control of the oil and gas fields to become the poster nation for nationalisation in the years that followed.

While Radebe, Dube and Temane – all of whom sit ­together on the board of the pro-nationalisation South ­African Mining Development Association – talk up a good argument as to why South Africa needs to begin to feed off its own resources, the fact remains that the country’s public sector has been blighted by corruption and ­nepotism, and parastatals have yet to become a collective success story.

But in Temane’s view, not doing anything is simply not an option.

He says: “The fact is that we are still living with the legacy of apartheid. That will only last for so long before it leads to turmoil.”

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