When I first met you at Genmin I thought you were an asshole.
Even by his standards, Bernard Swanepoel went over the top last year by calling Sir Mick Davis, the former CEO of Xstrata, an asshole at the Joburg Mining Indaba (although he subsequently modified it to “clever asshole”). The roots to Swanepoel’s comment lie in an old South African mining industry quip which went as follows: “When the people at the top of Genmin look down all they see are bald heads, and when the people at the bottom of Genmin look up all they see are assholes.”
Score another marketing success for Swanepoel who managed to keep his conference brand intact despite having to switch to a virtual platform because of the restrictions imposed on live events by Covid-19. Not that Swanepoel is perfect at this job by any means. He wasted too much time allowing new Anglo American Platinum CEO, Natascha Viljoen, to focus on soft issues while not addressing some hard-core aspects of Anglo American Platinum’s less-than-spectacular operating performance last year, and left minimal time for viewer questions.
But his conference is still way better than the usual dull-as-ditchwater “don’t rock the boat” approach that is the normal fare at mining conferences. Swanepoel’s other day job - running the Last Mile Fund which backs promising looking players in the mining and resources field - garners almost minimal coverage by comparison which is probably the way he likes it. So the burning question for 2021 is this: Who is Swanepoel going to insult next after Davis in 2020 and calling AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa “a shit-stirrer of note” in 2019?
LIFE OF BERNARD
He’s one of the best known personalities in the South African mining sphere even though his track record is marred by his failure to take over Gold Fields when he was running Harmony Gold. Swanepoel was singled out by Peter Flack and the late Roger Kebble to run Harmony following the hostile takeover and break-up of the former Randgold & Exploration in the mid-Nineties.
Everything went right for nearly a decade as Swanepoel - supported by a rising gold price - took over a string of ageing gold mines from various groups until the all-out, hostile bid for Gold Fields. Had it succeeded, Swanepoel would have survived the subsequent downturn in the gold sector. After resigning from Harmony in 2007, Swanepoel returned to mining temporarily through Village Main Reef before teaming up with Joburg Indaba founder Paula Munsie and re-inventing himself as a mining industry impresario.
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