Business

Siki Mgabadeli
6 minute read
7 Feb 2017
9:13 am

We are not going to get transformation on a silver platter – Godfrey Oliphant

Siki Mgabadeli

Deputy minister of mineral resources says some mining companies want to hold government to ransom.

Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane. Picture: Gallo Images

SIKI MGABADELI:  Mineral resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane says all South Africans should enjoy the benefits of its natural resources. He was delivering the welcoming address at the first day of the Mining Indaba in Cape Town this morning, where more than 6 000 are expected to attend the annual four-day event. The theme for this year’s Indaba is focusing on long-term investment. The minister promised that the revised mining charter, which has been at the centre of investment uncertainty, will be gazetted by March of this year.

Let’s chat to the deputy minister in the Department of Mineral resources, Godfrey Oliphant. Thank you so much for making the time to talk to us today. The minister this morning talked to the sector, calling on them to work with government in addressing some of the country’s biggest concerns. In your view as the DMR, what are the biggest concerns in the industry right now?

GODFREY OLIPHANT:  Thanks, Siki, and thanks to your listeners. Let me just say first of all that we have started the year on a very different tone with commodity prices going up, so there is a bit of positive traction in the industry to be able to move forward. So it’s very different from last year this time in the Mining Indaba.

But, having said that, there has been a debate in the public domain about the policy that we have, especially the issue of the mining charter. The mining charter has been a transformation tool to ensure that the indigenous black people of this country have a space in the mining industry.

So we agreed in 2004 that by 2014, 10 years later, we would have effective transformation which includes a range of other issues, but in terms of ownership at least 26%. So I think that one is behind us. There are companies that have done very well and there are companies that have really entered into bad transactions and want really to hold us to ransom. So that’s where we are.

SIKI MGABADELI:  What do you mean by holding you to ransom? I think the argument in the statement that the Chamber had released was that they feel it is their right to go to court and to question anything that they feel might be contrary to their rights. Is that what you are referring to?

GODFREY OLIPHANT:  No, no. The issue that there was an argument around is a declaratory order where the court must determine where the charter actually extends is prejudicial to others, because there are others who have not achieved 26% because they said they did it before. My recollection, because I’ve been in this department for long enough, is that there were companies that were coming to say listen, we know that by 2014 we’ve got to reach 26%, but now we still have a bit of time. We’ll comply with Section 11, we’ll correct this as we go – and that’s to set an example.

Now that time came, they have corrected, and they come with these other issues that I think they are trying to resolve. Our approach has been that, as the minister has asked, let’s talk and correct these things because it’s not helpful. We’ve got to ensure that the industry must actually succeed. But in the success of the industry we must also enforce transformation because that’s something that we are not going to get on a silver platter from industry.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Okay. And you feel strongly that it must be retrospective, because some companies did not reach the 26%?

GODFREY OLIPHANT:  No, we all said by 2014, two years ago, everybody must have complied. So that’s the crux of the matter. There are others who say no, no, that was just a percentage. So the matter that we have spoken about over and over again – I think we have found a solution.

But there are those that I think also are funded by the industry in one way or another that are going there to test the law in their own individual capacity. We know this. But that’s where we say, listen, anybody going to court is fine, we’ll find you there. Let’s see how we resolve this matter. But we say it’s unnecessary because why should we bicker about transformation?

SIKI MGABADELI:  Moving from transformation, let’s talk about labour relations and industrial action. Are you happy over the way that, particularly over the past year, we’ve become so used, for example, in the country to so-called strike season and a very adversarial relationship between industry and labour and government? Would you say that now you are in a position where you’d say you are able to deal with each other when it comes to industrial action?

GODFREY OLIPHANT:  Industrial action is part of the law. There is nothing wrong with workers and employers trying to use what is in the law to resolve a problem. What we are saying is that there cannot be violence and all the other issues that are ugly when there is a strike. That’s something that we’ve said.

And Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant has been working very hard within …, within Nedlac and individually to ensure that we’ve got labour relations that are orderly. So, as for that one, I’m comfortable that we have made a lot of progress.

But we have not resolved the major grievance of wages for workers. I think that’s a matter that at some stage we’ll have to go head-on and say we come from a cheap labour system in this country. So as much as the companies are making money, we must be able to pay decent wages in all sectors, including in the mining industry.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Okay. I wanted to bring, deputy minister, that point about inclusive growth and inclusive sharing in communities. How do you ensure that then?

GODFREY OLIPHANT:  I think we’ve made a lot of progress, actually, because in our laws we made provision for what we call social and labour plans whereby mining companies make a five-year commitment of …investment in communities where they are mining. We’ve got a lot of resources and activities that are happening on that score. So we are saying that we’ve made a lot of progress.

And in companies where workers have stakes, some of them when the times were good received very good dividends from mining companies. I remember that at one stage there was a mining company that was giving workers R500 000 as a dividend. Obviously that was taken; that was what they were unhappy about.

So where the systems have worked for us, we have seen a lot of dividends of our freedom going to workers and mining companies also, because they’ve been working with stakeholders, making a profit and so on.

All I’m saying is, in all this, including other sectors where minimum wages have got to come into effect, I think as a country we are doing relatively well. It’s a bit on the slow side but it is something that is sustainable.

SIKI MGABADELI: We’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time, deputy minister of Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant.

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