Just two weeks ago, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe was being lauded for bringing employers Sibanye-Stillwater, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the National Union of Mineworkers of SA to the negotiating table to try to settle their wage dispute, which had been dragging on for three months.
Gold operations at the mine have ceased, while mine workers are struggling under the no work, no pay rule. That nothing came out of the platform he created was not Mantashe’s fault, as both parties appear driven by a high level of intransigence.
But, just a week later, the real Mantashe came out of his shell. Reacting to Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman’s comments that the company could withstand a strike for years if need be, Mantashe last week suggested that his department could cancel the company’s mining rights because it appears disinterested in using them. Section 47 of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act gives the minister power to suspend or cancel rights, permits or permissions in certain circumstances.
Tough engagement is all well and good, but threatening to unilaterally withdraw a legally obtained mining licence is out of order. It is also particularly bad at a time when government is trying to inspire domestic and foreign investor confidence.
But we must also frown on Froneman’s arrogant attitude that the mine has the ammunition to sit out the strike. It was insensitive and showed disregard for thousands of mine workers who are trying to look after their families.
We don’t know if Mantashe was bluffing or if he meant what he said, but the mine workers’ unions took him at his word and are now calling on him to carry out his threat. As if he had not done enough damage already, Mantashe bombastically told the Minerals Council that executives should not speak about the ills of the country and must consider the message negative utterances send to ratings agencies.
South Africa is a constitutional democracy. Such threats to shut down free speech have no place in this country. Mantashe should focus on fixing the problems in the mining sector instead of censoring comments about them. He serves in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, but appears to run his own show with his own rules. He is a maverick who imagines he lives in a dictatorial state where he is the judge, jury and executioner. Ramaphosa must rein him in before he causes more damage.