CoM’s Baxter defends boycott saying he won’t condone Zwane

Roger Baxter, in-coming chair, Southern Palladium Pic: Martin Rhodes

SOUTH Africa’s Chamber of Mines defended its decision to boycott the opening of a mining conference in Johannesburg last night that was attended by the mines minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, saying it was an informed decision, not borne of “personal animosity”.

“It was not an impetuous decision,” said Roger Baxter, CEO of the Chamber of Mines regarding the gala dinner of the Joburg Indaba. “It was something we resolved to do without fanfare or comment,” he said.

“We regret that the conference organiser chose to publicise our decision which was conveyed to him purely as a matter of courtesy to assist his organisational considerations,” said Baxter, referring to Bernard Swanepoel who chairs the Joburg Indaba. The boycott was first reported on Miningmx on the eve of the conference in which an industry source said the Chamber was reticent to be exposed to more wild claims by Zwane.

Zwane said at the Africa Down Under conference in Australia last month that the Reviewed Mining Charter was law and that all investors he had consulted were in favour of the revised document and would comply with its provisions.

Delegate attendees, however, viewed the Chamber’s decision as something of an “own goal”. “They have surrendered the moral high ground and allowed Zwane to say that he was open to talks with the mining industry,” said one conference attendee.

At heart of the dispute is the Reviewed Mining Charter which was published by Zwane’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) on June 15 and which contained a number of provisions that totally blind-sided the Chamber of Mines.

Baxter said again at a press conference called at the Joburg Indaba today that his organisation barely had been consulted by Zwane in the review of the Mining Charter. The Chamber had subsequently asked for a legal review of the document due to be heard in the High Court on December 15 and 16.

Zwane’s speech, however, was far from the olive branch. It was contradictory in that he spoke of opening the door to negotiations with the Chamber but then said the DMR would be unmoved on elements of the Mining Charter. He also said that policies had been set in stone and even indicated the race to succeed President Jacob Zuma as president of the African National Congress (ANC) had already been decided at branch level in the party. The ANC elective conference is to take place in December.

Zwane did not attend the conference today.

Asked if there could be any conditions under which the Chamber would engage with the DMR again, Baxter said: “We will do our talking to the minister in the courts. Let the court  cases run [including the application for a declaratory order on the ‘continuing consequences’ matter brought by the Chamber to the High Court]. At this stage, we are relying on court action”.

Baxter said the end game was a renegotiated mining charter where “… all stakeholders have a chance to develop the Mining Charter. This particular Charter puts a range of things in place that are simply not practical”.

As for the relationship with the Joburg Indaba’s Swanepoel, Baxter said: “Bernard and I go a long way back when he was a vice president of the Chamber, but since exiting [Harmony Gold as CEO] in 2007, he has not been on the front line for a number of years”.