Chamber of Mines opens up about Zwane misgivings

Johannesburg – The Chamber of Mines has clarified the reasons behind its decision not to attend the Joburg Indaba dinner, where Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was the guest speaker.

Speaking at a press briefing at the Joburg Indaba on Wednesday, CEO Roger Baxter said that the decision was not driven by any “personal animosity” towards the minister.

“It was a carefully considered decision based on the current regulatory and judicial situation,” Baxter told journalists.

He highlighted several points leading up to the decision, among them mainly that Zwane had passed the Mining Charter unilaterally, and did not engage with the chamber on the issues. The charter’s implementation will destroy the industry, Baxter warned.

About the minister's assurance that his door is always open, Baxter said: “It is very easy to have an open conversation, but if that open conversation does not lead to practical, realistic outcomes, then the point of the engagement is an interesting one.”

Baxter called out Zwane’s decision to establish an agency that would administer R3bn to R5bn for the industry, without any plans for good governance. He pointed out that this is almost twice the minister’s national budget.

Baxter also took aim at Zwane’s questionable history by referring to allegations of the circumstances surrounding the minister’s appointment to advance the interests of a "well-known" family, and his alleged involvement in state capture.

“This pattern of behaviour makes it impossible for the industry to engage with any confidence with him on the industry’s future,” said Baxter.

“We know a new charter has to be developed, and we are certainly ready to do so with government leaders of integrity and with all other stakeholders.” The renegotiation of the charter cannot be a consultation with select stakeholders, on a once-off basis, said Baxter.

“A real negotiation is where all the stakeholders are in a room and you can trade off as to what can work and what can’t, as was seen with Charter One and Charter Two. Those were products of extensive negotiation.”

This is needed to get a charter everyone can agree with and defend, said Baxter.

Legal remedies

Baxter said the chamber had tried to engage with the minister in the past, without success. This has led to the decision to seek legal remedies.

“We do not want to engage with a stakeholder who has negotiated in bad faith and has these question marks hanging over him and over the department.”

Attending the dinner would have forced the chamber to engage with Zwane on specific regulatory issues in circumstances which were not conducive to constructive engagement, Baxter said.

He reiterated the complete absence of negotiations with the minister regarding the charter. The last time the parties were due to meet was on March 20. Zwane failed to attend the meeting and was replaced by his deputy. Zwane thereafter issued the charter in July and the court proceedings followed.

“We will do our talking with the minister through the courts because we don’t think that he negotiated in a manner that was conducive to the national interest.”

The ultimate goal is to achieve a renegotiated Mining Charter where all stakeholders have an opportunity to consult on and live with and which continues the progress of transformation, said Baxter.

“We want outcomes which are workable for the country, promote investment and transformation… What we have on the table now in our view does exactly the opposite.”

He added that given the chamber’s contribution to transformation, it was “disingenuous” of the minister to call the organisation anti-transformational by taking the matter to court.

The ANC may possibly play a facilitating role in negotiations, Baxter confirmed. The chamber has met with most of the ANC Top Six to voice concerns.

Treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, who spoke at the conference, said that the political party has engaged with the chamber on issues raised.

“We actually appealed to the ministry to sit down [with the chamber] on the Mining Charter to negotiate issues. These issues are now in court,” said Mkhize.

Baxter said that the chamber is not avoiding Zwane, but that it has more reliance on the court processes for engagement.

The last time the chamber shared a platform with Zwane was at the Africa Down Under conference in Perth, Australia. According to Baxter, Zwane portrayed an incorrect image of the industry.

“The minister said everything was hunky dory, that image was not correct.” Zwane had not mentioned the court challenges the department was facing, even though 90% of the industry represented by the chamber was unhappy.

The ideal outcome from the courts would be the suspension of the charter and a review of specific components of the document, in terms of where they came from and if the minister applied his mind in arriving at particular targets, he said. 

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