Mantashe looms large over first – positive – Charter meeting

THE first report back from the stakeholders negotiating the Mining Charter is due on April 10 so it’s probably worth setting down some preliminary observations from the first round of negotiations over the last few weeks.

The first observation is the impact of mines minister, Gwede Mantashe. He has brought a new set of dynamics to the negotiating table. Apart from his first-hand knowledge of South African mining, he has formidable negotiating powers dating from his time as secretary-general of the African National Congress which has helped him steer the debate away from extremism whilst stating from the outset of the negotiations that the government’s goal in respect of the Charter was to “… move ownership of and control over the mining sector to black South Africans” so as to “… create wealth for black South Africans”. Interestingly, he also said the politically connected should not be enriched by the Charter.

Despite the debates around the content of the Charter, it is interesting to observe the race dynamics that are playing out around the negotiating table.

The president of the Chamber of Mines, Mxolisi Mgojo, and two of the three vice-presidents, Andile Sangqu and Steve Phiri, are prominent in negotiations in the Principal’s Forum. Furthermore, the Chamber has three strong and highly skilled negotiators, who also happen to be black South Africans, who serve on the Charter Task Team. It is ironic to see how this industry and especially the Chamber who was at the forefront of so-called “white monopoly capital”, is now transformed at senior level and suddenly the anti-mining house sentiment has lost the “racial sting” it used to be the case in the past.

In the meantime, intense negotiating is underway in the Charter Task Team and the dynamics around the negotiating table are a mix of traditional power play and the quest for a win-win situation. Government’s instruction to the task team is to come up with a proposal that will take the mining industry to their ideal position of “high growth and high transformation”.

However, it calls for a great deal of “give and take” because broad-based black economic empowerment must be offset against the mining industry’s sustainability and address the concerns of investors and rating agencies.

In this regard, Sibanye-Stillwater CEO, and one of the vice-presidents of the Chamber, Neal Froneman contended during one of the engagements that when it comes to credit rating agencies, the Charter’s content is more important than a deadline. I understand where Froneman is coming from, but he was quickly reminded by government that credit rating agencies cannot take precedence over the empowerment goals for the mining sector.

If the public debate around the Charter does not get hijacked by populist hotheads, as has happened with the land issue, we should make the June 2018 deadline to finalise the Charter.

Gideon du Plessis is Solidarity’s General Secretary