[miningmx.com] — CAN anything good come from discussions and collaborations with a president whose government has many clouds hanging over it?
On Friday morning, when delegates gathered for Jacob Zuma’s job-creation summit with business leaders at the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria, one could almost see the indecision on some faces.
The business delegation attended under the umbrella of Business South Africa (Busa) – an organisation which itself struggles with continuous undercurrents as a result of the unity enforced by former president Thabo Mbeki.
However, signs of division were not visible on an occasion such as Friday’s presidential meeting. The speech by Futhi Mtoba, Busa’s president, was honest and direct. Without eliciting confrontation, she spelt out why the mess government had made of important issues in the past year would make it difficult to create jobs.
She first complained about the “direction and tone’ of public debates, no doubt referring to the debate on the nationalisation of mines raging within the ANC.
One had to accept that long-term security of title deeds and a reliable electricity supply were needed before job losses in the mining industry could turn around, she said.
While mining, manufacturing and agriculture are three priority sectors in which the target of 5 million new job opportunities are to be realised by 2020, there is very little chance that any new mining projects will be announced before the ANC gives finality over the issue of nationalisation at its national policy congress in June 2012.
Also, to underscore the divisions among the business community, one only has to point to the attendance of Bridgette Radebe, honorary president of the SA Mining Development Association (Samda) and a staunch proponent of nationalisation.
Mines Minister Susan Shabangu was also in attendance. She had returned days earlier from Canada and the United States, where she and the Chamber of Mines – one of Busa’s most important members – tried to reassure prospective mining investors about the safety of investing in South Africa’s mining industry.
Every other cabinet member involved with economic development was also at the summit: Pravin Gordhan from finance, Rob Davies from trade & industry, Dipuo Peters from energy, Joemat Pietersen from agriculture and Naledi Pandor from science & technology.
Trevor Manuel of the National Planning Commission was conspicuous by his absence.
It remains to be seen how a group of delegates such as these will be capable of free discussion of issues which affect investor confidence in the country’s mining industry – for instance the controversy around Sishen’s mineral rights, where even Zuma has a personal involvement via his son and friends.
Scepticism aside, one cannot dispute the value of such summits. Former president Thabo Mbeki virtually ignored the South African business sector, but made a big issue of his international investment council on which some of the world’s top businesspeople served.
Since Zuma’s coming into power, Friday’s summit was his first direct meeting with the organised business sector as a whole. Ministers had visited Busa and addressed meetings there, but these were mainly cosmetic contacts with no opportunity for dialogue on troubling issues and possible opportunities that could be exploited.
Friday’s meeting will probably culminate in a bilateral presidential business council that will have to participate in the application of Minister of Economic Planning Ebrahim Patel’s new growth path strategy. The creation of this council was proposed by Mtoba and seemingly accepted by Zuma.
It also remains to be seen whether this council will be walking on eggshells over controversial and divisive issues, and matters such as mining rights and amendments to labour legislation will no doubt appear on the agenda.