Zwane's 'door remains open' after chamber boycotts speech

Bernard Swanepoel, conference chairperson and former CEO of Harmony Gold and Village Main Reef.
Bernard Swanepoel, conference chairperson and former CEO of Harmony Gold and Village Main Reef.
Wynand Van Der Merwe

Johannesburg – It is a “pity” that the Chamber of Mines will only engage with Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane through the courts, the Department of Mineral Resources has said.

In an emailed response to Fin24 on Thursday, the department's spokesperson Fidel Habede said it was “regrettable” that the mining body chose to skip a industry dinner on Tuesday evening where the minister was a guest speaker. 

“It is a pity that the chamber has stated its position to only engage the minister and department through courts of law. There are many men and women who are industry leaders [and] players who interact with the minister regardless of the differences they have with his department's policies especially as they relate to the charter,” said Hadebe.

Chamber officials chose not to attend a dinner ahead of the Joburg Indaba mining conference for several reasons, said the chamber's CEO Roger Baxter at a press briefing on Wednesday. Chief among these was that Zwane had passed the controversial new Mining Charter "unilaterally".

The implementation of the charter has been halted, ahead of a court case set to start in mid-December.

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

Baxter said the chamber, which acts as the mining industry employers’ organisation, had decided to go to court in an attempt to block the charter because attempts to engage with the minister had not been successful.

“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,” he said of Zwane. “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.”

Zwane’s 'door is open'

Hadebe said Zwane attended the dinner as an invited guest and used the opportunity to address 300 industry players and interact with them informally. The minister's “official door remains open” to the chamber to engage in future engagement, he added. 

Baxter previously said that it was a “pity” that Zwane opened up his arms for engagement "after the horse had bolted".

During his address on Tuesday evening, Zwane called out industry players who bad-mouthed the country when travelling abroad, saying this discourages investment.

This was a reference to the Africa Down Under conference in Perth, Australia, where in early September Baxter criticised the minister for portraying an “incorrect image” of the industry to investors.

In his address at the conference in Australia, Baxter said SA's mining industry was surprised that Zwane claimed to have received positive feedback from any investor on the Mining Charter, or the state of the industry.

“This has not been the industry’s experience, and it is the industry that engages with investors and raises capital on a regular basis," he said. 

‘Still friends with Roger’

Joburg Indaba conference organiser and chairperson Bernard Swanepoel told Fin24 he respected the chamber’s decision to not attend the dinner.

Swanepoel said that the chamber’s decision did not cast a shadow over the conference, as Chamber members had still attended it and Baxter had participated in the Joburg Indaba. “This was a stance by Roger Baxter and his team and I respect it.”

He said that the chamber used the Joburg Indaba as a platform to make a strong point and send a message. “I continue to be friends with Roger Baxter. Our members and their members are the same people,” he said. 

Swanepoel said that when he asked coference attendees whether the indaba should have invited the mining minister, 90% said yes. He said attendees were split on whether the Chamber of Mines should have skipped the dinner.

LISTEN: Bernard Swanepoel says he respects the chamber's stance

Baxter on Wednesday told journalists that the chamber has never been more united in the 25 years he has been part of the industry. “We do not say to our members, ‘You will not attend a dinner,’ it is up to them.”

He said the ultimate goal is to achieve a renegotiated Mining Charter that all stakeholders have an opportunity to consult on. “We want outcomes in the national interest, not in the interest of a select few at the expense of the entire country.”

'Working hard behind the scenes'

Speaking at the conference on Thursday, president of the Chamber of Mines of Mines Mxolisi Mgojo said that although the Mining Charter's enactment would now be decided by the courts, the chamber is not sitting still.

The implementation of the charter has been halted, ahead of a court case set to start in mid-December.

“We are working hard behind the scenes, developing ideas of what the new charter can look like,” he said.

The chamber is also engaging with its past presidents who were involved in the development of the country's previous two mining charters.

On top of that, it is engaging with civil society organisations, unions and political government leaders in the ANC to avoid the mistake of not engaging all stakeholders on the matter, as is the case now, he explained.

“We will continue talking to others … consultation and partnership is key to the transformation journey and outcomes,” he said. 

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