#MiningIndaba: From Zwane's charter blank to hope for reset button

Delegates talk in front of a display of a mine at Africa's biggest annual mining conference, last year's Investing in African Mining Indaba. (Rodger Bosch, AFP File)
Delegates talk in front of a display of a mine at Africa's biggest annual mining conference, last year's Investing in African Mining Indaba. (Rodger Bosch, AFP File)

London - Mining executives, investors and government ministers are meeting in drought-hit Cape Town for the African Mining Indaba, the continent’s biggest gathering of one of its most vital industries.

Recent multiyear highs for many commodities have the world’s biggest miners swimming in cash and new demand from electric vehicles mean once-overlooked metals like lithium and cobalt are grabbing the spotlight.

But it’s not all blue skies, as the industry grapples with regulatory changes and uncertainty in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, as well as host South Africa.

Here are the latest developments:

Mining culture needs to be 'less alpha male'

The mining industry’s culture needs to become “less alpha male” and has a long way to go to create a workplace that includes women, said Mike Fraser, president and chief operating officer for Africa at Perth-based South32 [JSE:S32].

From safety gear to facilities, the sector often doesn’t cater enough for women, he said. “Those kinds of conversations, whilst they are now emerging to the surface, are probably 20, 30, 40 years too late and I would say there’s still a significant amount of work we have to do.”

Ownership of South32’s South African energy-coal business will go beyond the government’s minimum requirements on black empowerment, Fraser said.

Rio’s mines of the future

Earlier at indaba, Rio Tinto’s Bold Baatar, head of energy and minerals, said the company will be competing with the likes of Facebook and Google for workers as mining automation increases.

Currently, two-thirds of Rio’s engineers are miners, but within a decade that number will be halved, he said.

He also echoed a popular point from the industry: governments often have too high expectations for the money to be made from mines and don’t factor in the costs.

Anglo hopes for reset button in SA

Meanwhile, Norman Mbazima, deputy chairperson of Anglo American’s [JSE:AGL] South African unit, said he’s hopeful that, with the improvement in the political environment since December, “we can now find the ‘reset’ button and get back around the table”.

December, of course, refers to the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ruling African National Congress. Mbazima said he’s “very encouraged” about Ramaphosa’s comments in Davos that urgent action is needed to resolve the impasse over the mining charter.

Zwane ignores the elephant in the room

Minerals Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s opening speech spanned the industry’s contribution to the economy, efforts to boost geomapping in the country and the importance of exploration.

What he failed to address was the acrimonious dispute between his department and mining companies in South Africa over the controversial mining charter introduced in June last year.

Zwane on Rio investment?

The minister also mentioned that he’d met Rio Tinto since arriving in Cape Town and casually dropped a reference to a planned $450m investment by the world’s second-largest mining company to expand operations.

Rio hasn’t announced anything like that but Zwane might have been referring to the Zulti South minerals sands project in Richards Bay.

The company’s board is due to make a decision on the Zulti South investment this year, according to a Rio spokesperson.

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