/ 31 May 2009

Zuma to focus on safety, black ownership in mining

President Jacob Zuma said on Saturday he plans to focus on enforcing safety measures to curb mining deaths which have hurt output and to review black ownership in the mining industry.

In a speech delivered to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the new president also said he would ensure local communities benefited from mining activities in their areas.

”We need to vigorously support and entrench a culture of zero harm in this industry … the safety record of our mines has become a central issue that will be placed under the scrutiny of government,” he told the union members at a gala event.

Last week alone, at least nine workers died in mining operations across the country.

In 2008, the total fatality figure amounted to 168 workers, and a recent safety audit showed mine safety compliance in South Africa was below target at just 66%.

Mining companies have suffered production losses after fatalities due to routine shutdowns ordered by the government for investigations, and work stoppages by union members who have vowed to stop work for a day to mark the death of colleagues.

Zuma split the minerals and energy portfolio when forming his Cabinet earlier this month in a bid to give more focus to the issues facing each industry.

”People feel that despite progressive legislation, the mining industry and government are not doing enough to ensure that they, too, fully reap the benefits of the mining activities that are taking place,” he said.

The new mining minister, Susan Shabangu, will oversee the first major review of the Mining Charter, a five-year-old agreement meant to bring more black ownership in mining, reversing decades of exclusion under white apartheid rule.

Zuma said only a few of the black economic empowerment initiatives had been successful and urged the unions, industry and the local communities to engage in the review.

”This will assist to address this simmering unhappiness in many parts of our country, he said. – Reuters