SOUTH Africa’s mining ‘houses’ were so described to convey the sense of sprawling corporatisation that through time came to typify the ownership patterns of country’s mineral resources. But to call a thing a house also implies a physical confidence.
Thus, Johannesburg’s Main Street had its tapestried Anglo American headquarters; Fox Street was where Gold Fields of SA resided with its airy, marbled reception in front of which the bust of founder, Cecil John Rhodes, stood, atop a plinth; a piece of statuary that would surely be in jeopardy today.
Consolidated Building, opposite the JCI building on Harrison Street (until it was sold for R6m following the company’s dissolution) contained a charming, hand-operated lift, reputed to date from when Johannesburg really was just a mining town.
All history now, especially as Anglo American confirmed in an e-mail that it was pressing ahead with its move to new offices in Rosebank from Johannesburg, notwithstanding the adoption of work from home practices that will continue after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The move is still proceeding as planned, for next year,” said Sibusiso Tshabalala, spokesman for Anglo American. The focus is currently on managing Covid-19’s impact on employee health risks. “In the interim, most of our corporate office employees in South Africa continue to work from home, in line with the guidance provided by Government,” he said.
Further afield, flexible work-from-home arrangements will be put in place. They had already been in development before the pandemic, says Tshabalala. Now there will be more “options” for it, he said.
Gold Fields, which has its origin in the Nineties-era merger of Gencor with GFSA gold assets, long decamped to Sandton from central Johannesburg into a building former Gencor boss, Brian Gilbertson, once described as “… functional yet comfortable”. That building, however, is far less populated than in Gilbertson’s day.
“We are offering the return to office work from October, and from next year a flexible work week,” said Sven Lunsche, spokesman for Gold Fields. “I’m not sure how well that will be adopted but I expect about half of the total office will take it up,” he said.
As for the Sandton office, there’s still “a few years” left on the lease so that will remain for the time being. But the fact that WeWork type offices are available across the road from Anglo’s proposed head office in Rosebank might be more appropriate.
The last mining company still to operate out of central Johannesburg, AngloGold Ashanti, has pledged to retain its South African presence despite having ambitions to take a primary listing in New York or London, eventually. An attempt to dissuade the group from upping sticks was attempted by Government which threatened – but failed – to make it a condition of AngloGold’s $300m sale of South African assets to Harmony Gold.
AngloGold Ashanti spokesman, Stewart Bailey, says the South African office makes sense from a cost and logistics point of view, so its local presence is here to stay.
But its ‘turbine hall’ offices in Johannesburg’s Newtown, a structure that dates from the 1920s, haven’t been full since successive restructurings between 2016 and 2018. Its lease is due to expire in 18 months after which the last of the mining houses potentially bids its final adieu to Johannesburg.