THE Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and the Minerals Council of South Africa continue to get along just fine, but there are still no details available of the pending new exploration strategy required to revitalise the South African mining industry.
That was the key message to emerge from a 90-minute panel discussion webinar hosted by Canadian legal firm, Fasken, which turned out to be long on compliments between the Minerals Council of South Africa and the DMRE, but short on real facts that investors could get their teeth into.
According to Minerals Council CEO, Roger Baxter: “There’s a lot of work that has been done. We think it’s a game-changing plan once it is finalised in the not-too-distant future – I think within the next month – but we need guidance on that from the Minister (DMRE minister, Gwede Mantashe), and the DG (DMRE director-general, Thabo Mokoena).”
Also, according to Baxter,”… the minister and ourselves agree that we want to increase exploration expenditure five-fold from its current level of one percent of the global total.
“The collaborative partnership is remarkable and in my 28 years in the industry, I have not seen this level of commitment and engagement although there are challenges. There are backlogs in certain of the licencing categories”.
Errol Smart – chairman of the Minerals Council of South Africa’s junior and emerging miners leadership forum – also cozied up to Mantashe saying that: “We have come a million miles in the four years that the Minister took over the DMRE. It’s important to note that the Minister is speaking to us as the Minerals Council of South Africa again.
“Whenever he’s cross with us, then Roger (Baxter) and I become the Chamber of Mines. We are not being spoken to anymore – we are discussing with – and that’s a step forward”.
But Smart was the only participant on the panel to poke his finger into some touchy areas. That’s probably because his “day job” is MD of junior, Orion Minerals, which has just raised R294m for copper exploration work in the Northern Cape. That means he is dealing on a daily basis with the difficulties faced by exploration companies in South Africa.
Smart commented: “I am concerned that we are still talking about talking. It’s time to start implementing”.
He also raised the subject of the length of tenure on exploration permits in South Africa which he believes is too short. “It takes typically 17 to 25 years to discover a big base metal mine while our prospecting rights in South Africa only allow eight years currently”.
Another requirement is a new and more efficient mining cadastre system – which logs applications for mineral rights – to replace the existing SAMRAD platform which the mining industry widely views as dysfunctional.
Mokoena said in October last year that this was: “… receiving the highest level of attention it deserves, but there is no time-frame”. At the same time, Mokoena also commented the DMRE would present “… an exploration strategy in the next three months”.
Asked about progress on the new cadastre model at yesterday’s webinar, Mokoena replied: “We have to improve our system. We are hard at work in attending to this problem. I can confirm that by the time we reconvene again next year we will be telling a different story”.