/ 16 November 2012

(Chart)ing a way forward

Leading the way: Mineral Affairs Minister Susan Shabangu
Leading the way: Mineral Affairs Minister Susan Shabangu

We have come a long way since the May 2004 promulgation of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002, and the implementation of the Broad-Based Socio-Economic Empowerment Charter (widely known as the Mining Charter).

There are successes that can be pointed out [but] there are still major challenges.

Fragmented approach We need to enhance the legislation and are finalising amendments to the Act to remove ambiguities inherent in the law, streamline licensing processes and enhance provisions for sanctions to non-compliance.

The negative effect of this fragmented approach to licensing requirements for mining [has prompted] the minister of water and environmental affairs and me to initiate an integrated licensing approach.

Our respective officials are finalising recommendations for the "one-stop shop" approach that will include both environment and water requirements, rationalise the licensing process and enhance turnaround time. Although we have progressed well on reformulation of the regulatory framework, we have to place much greater emphasis on [tangible] implementation.

Skills development

The annual progress reports indicate that the cumulative yearly investment in skills development by the sector has reached 4.6% of total payroll (excluding the statutory skills development levy), a not insignificant amount of money.

However, a significant number of mineworkers remain unskilled and the industry is reeling from severe shortages of the skills that are required to grow it. This contradiction means we have to re-evaluate our skills development initiatives.

The industry loses more than 50% of its technical graduates in the first five years and more than 70% in the first 10 years of employment to other sectors of the economy.

Scientific revival

Despite an attractive geological terrain for exploration, [South Africa has] unfortunately lost eminence in the exploration activities and associated expenditure in the past decade or so. [The department of mineral affairs] is working with the relevant science councils, including Mintek and the Council for Geoscience, to ensure that we can create an enabling environment for exploration and scientific research to thrive.

Decent employment

The migrant labour system remains as [entrenched] in the mining sector today as it was when the Land Act of 1913 was introduced to force black South Africans to service the mining industry. I am encouraged by the targets in the amendments that eliminate the apartheid-style living conditions of mineworkers.

Sector stakeholders [must] work towards production efficiency and competitiveness of the sector. We can only achieve this if our mineworkers are proud shareholders of the very means of production they work tirelessly to exploit.

I remain gravely concerned about the performance of some sectors, especially the platinum sector. We have to do much more to improve both fatalities and occupational diseases in the industry through our intensified programmes. The department is also reviewing the Mine Health and Safety Act.

We must create decent employment through the following areas:

• Procuring goods and services from local manufacturers;

• Aggregating social development requirements (social and labour Plans) to increase the effect of the industry on development requirements;

• Using South African-based facilities for analysis of all samples across the commodity value chain from exploration, through mining and metallurgy to value addition. This requirement will resuscitate the analytical facilities [mentioned above]

• Executing concurrent mining rehabilitation, where possible, to bring forward post-mining rehabilitation responsibilities and ensure sustainable land use; and

• Supporting mineral beneficiation.

We have pockets of excellence in our cooperation and collaboration as stakeholders. A recent example is the mining, growth, development and employment task team (Migdett), which is constituted by the government, business and organised labour. Migdett is our response to the vagaries of the financial crisis and has borne good results with job losses contained to a figure much smaller than forecasted.

It would be wonderful for the Chamber of Mines to stand up next year and say: "One hundred years [after the Land Act of 1913], we have moved towards total eradication of the policies of despotism to reclaim our legitimacy to the democratic society of South Africa". This is an edited, shortened version of the address delivered by Mineral Affairs Minister Susan Shabangu at the annual general meeting of the Chamber of Mines on November 6 2012