Zuma must be clear on mines policy

2012-02-04 13:20

As this year’s state of the nation approaches, the South African business community is hoping that President Jacob Zuma will clarify the issue of government’s approach to mining.

At several business meetings calls have been made for policy clarity and the opposition parties have accused Zuma of being fork-tongued on the issue.

Since the ANC’s national general council in Durban two years ago, mixed messages have emanated from the ANC president. Zuma has repeatedly been accused of ­double-speak on the issue of ­nationalisation.

What was thought to be Zuma’s most conclusive statement thus far was at the launch of the state mining company in Mpumalanga in February last year.

There President Zuma said that the role of the state would not be confined to mere regulation of South Africa’s R18 trillion worth of mineral resources and that the state “must actively participate in the mining industry to ensure that our national interests are protected and advanced”.

“Our policy is to build a strong mixed economy in which the state and the private sector complement each other to achieve shared and inclusive growth.

“Government policy on minerals does not make provision for the ­nationalisation of mining assets, but does not prevent the state from participating actively and competing with other companies.”

Closer scrutiny shows though that they may have been a purpose in the double-speak. Resource ­nationalism is still on the ANC’s debate table and any indication for or against, might be interpreted as pre-empting the outcome of the discussions.

At the late January yearly gathering of international business and government leaders in Davos, Switzerland, Zuma addressed the South African business community delegation there.

He said: “Ours is an economy where the state, private capital, co-operative and other forms of social ownership work together, complementing each other to foster shared economic growth and eliminate poverty.”

Analysts said this was the consistent mixed economy, multiple-ownership approach that is consistent with the policy of the ANC.

Yet, the Business Day news­paper, quoting Zuma’s statements earlier in the same speech said that he had “warmed hearts” in Davos as he had rejected nationalisation on that platform.

The quote upon which this perception relied on in Zuma’s speech was: “The state is not the primary job creator. The state prepares the environment for economic growth and provides support to the private sector by providing enablers and removing obstacles.”

In the same speech, Zuma seemed to elevate the regulatory and facilitative role of the state, rather than its interventionist ­capacities.

Yet, in his February 2011 state of the nation address in the National Assembly, Zuma said: Government would adopt a beneficiation strategy “so that we can start reaping the full benefits of our commodities.

“The mineral wealth of our country is a national asset and a common heritage that belongs to all ­Africans, with the state as the ­custodian.”

“Estimates suggest that our mineral resources are expected to be exploitable for over a century to come,” he added.

Zuma in this speech said: “To take advantage of that potential, government has endorsed the African Exploration, Mining and ­Finance Corporation as the state-owned mining company, that will undertake the mining of minerals of strategic significance.”

Again the official opposition DA objected to this element in the speech claiming that it increased fears of nationalisation.

In his January 8 ANC Centenary speech, Zuma emphasised the more interventionist vision of a state intent on resource nationalism, rather than nationalisation.

“The mineral wealth beneath the soil has been transferred to the state on behalf of the people as a whole,” said the president.

“The establishment of a mining company means that the state takes an active interest in mining activities.”

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