Zambia leaves South Africa choking in its dust at the 2022 Mining Indaba

Zambia leaves South Africa choking in its dust at the 2022 Mining Indaba
Workers move batches of copper sheets on 6 July 2016 in Mufulira, Zambia. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson /Getty Images)

Investors are buying President Hakainde Hichelema’s narrative of ‘New Dawn’ change, but remain sceptical about South Africa’s vague promises to break bureaucratic logjams in its mining sector.

In the world of investment, political shifts are monitored as closely as any economic indicator.

At the “Investing in African Mining Indaba” in 2018, the changing political winds in a trio of southern African countries — Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa — lifted the mood of investors.

Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe had both stepped down, or been forced out, in 2017, and Cyril Ramaphosa had clinched the ANC presidency that year and was on the verge of becoming head of state when the Indaba was held in early February 2018.

The Angolan and Zimbabwean mining ministers launched charm offensives to woo investors at the conference. The hapless Mosebenzi Zwane was still SA’s mines minister but the industry — which simply could not stand the sight of the man — knew the writing was on the wall.

Fast-forward to May 2022, and it was Zambia that stole the show — a performance also driven by political change. Hakainde Hichilema won the presidency last year, defeating the autocratic Edgar Lungu, whose administration at one point had arrested the former on treason charges.

Hichilema declared Africa’s No 2 copper producer “open for business”, using a phrase that is a cliche at such conferences. But investors are buying the narrative of change under the banner of “New Dawn Government” — which has a familiar political ring for South Africans.  

Copper miner First Quantum Minerals used the Indaba to announce the largest investment in Zambia in a decade: $1.35-billion in two new projects.

“The government deserves a great deal of credit for the approach they have taken since this administration commenced last year,” said First Quantum’s representative, Godwin Beene. “They want to see a radical improvement in the size and scale of the industry over the next decade, confident in the belief that when mining does well so does Zambia. These things do take time to come to fruition, but it does feel like we are entering into a new and better future for the industry.”  

Hichilema noted the opportunity the “green energy transition” represents as copper is a “green metal” and a key ingredient in the construction of solar panels, wind turbines and the like.

“Copper is critical in the green energy transition, and there is increasing demand for it. What an opportunity!” he said.

Translation: this is a no-brainer.

South Africa, by way of unflattering contrast, has the sun setting on its “New Dawn”, falling into the bottom of the rankings of the Fraser Institute’s “Investment Attractiveness Index”, which focuses on mining exploration.

Cape Town is a great place to throw a party, but investors are not going to let the dop blur their vision regarding the mining sector.

Commenting on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech to the Indaba, law firm Webber Wentzel noted the lack of detail about the measures proposed to increase investment and grow South Africa’s mining industry.

“He omitted to address the challenge of unlawful protests which disrupt mining operations. He also did not clarify exactly who would be responsible for improving the living conditions of host communities, although government is responsible for the provision of services such as education, water, infrastructure and health services.”

It noted acute capacity shortages in the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and “long delays in producing a cadastral system and processing applications result from both capacity and corruption issues”.

The backlog in applications for mining rights and the lack of a cadastral system are joined at the hip — the latter is needed to break the logjams.

A cadastral system is an online portal open to the public that provides comprehensive geological data about a country, information on mining and prospecting permits that have been issued and expired, and so on. It brings transparency to the sector, reducing opportunities for corruption.

The current Samrad system for mining applications is utterly useless and replacing it is a matter of urgency. DMRE officials at the Indaba blamed the State IT Agency for the delays.

Such finger-pointing is hardly going to resolve the issue and is a transparent ditching of responsibility — but no surprise from a government and ruling party that do not embrace accountability.

Ramaphosa did pledge to reduce the waiting time for the issue of water-use licences to 90 days. The Minerals Council SA welcomed the move while noting that the current pace for issuing such permits was “years” — a clear symptom of state failure.

And a failing state is not exactly a magnet for investment. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    A President with a lack of backbone and an incompetent minister are a recipe for disaster.

  • Ivan van Heerden says:

    Nothing will change for the better in South Africa until the inept clowns running this country are removed from absolute power. Either through partnership in a coalition government or, preferably, forced into the opposition benches. The Desperate Alliance should be focused on building a broad coalition with every single party, EFF included to rid the country of the ANC rather than pointing fingers at everyone.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Are we surprised Zambia is now run by the Chinese, has anybody noticed?

  • Brian Cotter says:

    A cadastralophe is the catastrophe of the old Samrad cadastral system, implemented by our famous Minister of that time, Susan Shabangu, of (Gupta) Imperial Crown Trading fame ( Sishen licences 2009) , still not being replaced in 2022 by our current Minister Gwede Mantashe. The non-dedication to implement a new system, which will unlock new mining licences, creating local and international investment and employment, preventing skuldugery, is bewildering. How may % of GDP growth has been lost due to a new software / database system not being implemented. As was the case in 2009 with the Gupta Company, Imperial Crown Trading, are there other instances where irregular licences have been issued and a new cadastral system will expose the irregularities. No dates or semi detailed programme for implementation are on the table publicly for any hope.

  • It seems that Ed Stoddard has a blind spot when it comes to covering mining and investment in Africa. In this article, Zambia is lauded as the leading light in Africa, but absolutely no mention is made of the environmental and social costs of the government’s ‘new dawn’ approach. A case in point in the open cast copper mine that has been approved for the Lower Zambezi National Park. This is equivalent to opening a mine in the heart of the Kruger National Park. The impacts will be widespread and include impact on the Zambezi River’s water quality as well as impacts on tourism and the sustainable and high quality jobs that it brings (and affect the Mana Pools park on the opposite bank). This type of ‘reporting’ is not only shoddy, it’s harmful.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    It seems to me that the Government of this country has entered a state of suspended animation.
    They have simply run out of ideas that fit their philosophy. Those they had have failed the poor while feeding the corrupt. Any attempted reverse of the past is being sabotaged by those who need their cut.
    In mining, this situation is made worse by the total absence of any system that blends with their kleptocracy, so they waffle rather than move in any direction.
    God guide and help us out if the hole they have dug for us!

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    The heading of this article says it all. Sies man! Hermann Funk you are 100% correct, the disaster has happened.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

home delivery

Say hello to DM168 home delivery

Get your favourite newspaper delivered to your doorstep every weekend.

Delivery is available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.