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CONFERENCE COMMENTARY

Mantashe a no-show at Joburg Mining Indaba, but Anglo’s former CEO Cutifani comes to the rescue

Mantashe a no-show at Joburg Mining Indaba, but Anglo’s former CEO Cutifani comes to the rescue
Minister of Mineral and Energy Resources Gwede Mantashe addresses delegates at the Africa Oil Week at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 4 October 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The mining sector’s honeymoon with Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is truly over. The minister on Thursday skipped out on giving the keynote address at the Joburg Mining Indaba, the City of Gold’s main mining conference. Former Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani was asked to step in – and he delivered.

Minister Gwede Mantashe was attending the Africa Oil Week conference in Cape Town and was meant to address the Joburg Mining Indaba via video link. Bernard Swanepoel, the colourful former CEO of Harmony Gold who runs the Mining Indaba, could not contain his anger at Mantashe’s no-show, saying the minister had “arrogantly” pulled out instead of addressing an industry that is a key part of his portfolio. 

Swanepoel said the Department of Minerals Resources and Energy (DMRE) had offered one or other low-level functionary to speak in Mantashe’s place, but he basically told them to take a hike. Instead, he offered former Anglo CEO Mark Cutifani the slot to give the speech the industry would have liked to hear the minister give. He did not quite do that, but as always, he delivered a thoughtful discourse in his Australian twang. 

But first, let’s return to the minister and the middle finger he raised to the industry. 

One theme, like a broken record at the Indaba, has been the lack of progress on replacing the utterly broken Samrad system with a transparent mining cadastre for processing applications linked to the industry. 

In February 2021, the shocking scale of the dysfunction at the DMRE was thrown into sharp relief when it was revealed in Parliament that there was a backlog of 5,326 applications for mining and related rights – a bottleneck that chokes badly needed investment, especially for exploration. And without exploration, you can’t have new mines. It’s as simple as that. 

Mantashe told the Mining Indaba last year that “progress” had been made, but declined to give any numbers, raising suspicions that little had been done – or that the DMRE could not provide the data because it had simply been overwhelmed.  

“Kindly note that from February 2021, the number of mining rights applications that have been adjudicated is 114, while the number of prospecting rights applications adjudicated is 493,” the DMRE said in an emailed response to Business Maverick last year. 

The problem with that response was that it still gave no indication about the size of the backlog, because other applications had presumably since been lodged. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Exclusive: Government (sort of) clarifies reduction in mining application backlog

The nonsense has since continued, with no real solution offered by the DMRE beyond pointing fingers at the State IT Agency. In April, the department told Business Maverick that the number had been reduced to below 4,000, but it is revealing that it will not – or cannot – provide a precise number.

DMRE makes progress on applications backlog, blames Sita for cadastre conundrum

For its part, the industry has long argued that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. In South Africa, there are two companies with off-the-shelf cadastral systems that could be bought – the industry has even offered to contribute to the funding – and be up and running in probably a matter of months. 

Roger Baxter, CEO of the main industry umbrella group, the Minerals Council SA, told the conference in response to questions on Wednesday that this was still the sector’s preferred option, and that it had not given up on this scenario. Swanepoel also spoke briefly about the unfolding cadastre disaster on Thursday morning when he was fuming about Mantashe’s no-show.

The critical thing about a mining cadastre is that it brings transparency to the industry. It is an online portal that is open to the public. It provides comprehensive geological data about a country or mining jurisdiction, provides information on mining permits that have been issued, including expiry dates, and lists available mining or prospecting rights and so on.

In short, it would shine a light on the corruption and incompetence that clearly define the DMRE. Mantashe and his department are increasingly – and transparently – giving the impression that they don’t want that light switched on. It’s just that obvious. And the minister is also probably tired of being badgered about it at mining conferences.


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Meanwhile, investment and growth opportunities in the mining sector are being squandered because of this sordid episode of wider state failure. 

Also on Thursday morning, Mantashe said on Twitter that on Friday he would be addressing an ANC event in the Western Cape, which shows where his priorities lie. It’s all about the party and the cadres – just look at the debacle around the cadastre. Swanepoel quipped to the conference that if the minister could revive the ANC in the Western Cape, then he could raise the dead. 

For his part, Cutifani made a number of sensible comments and he did so, under the circumstances, in his typically diplomatic fashion. 

He reiterated points he’s made before; that the mining sector is simply crucial to everyday life in the 21st century: “If it’s not grown, it’s mined.” 

“Without our products, we could only produce less than 50% of the food being produced today. We could only feed half the planet. A lot of people don’t understand that. Fertilisers and mechanised farming systems are all supported by products from our industry,” Cutifani said. 

He also noted that mining needed to be profitable to be sustainable. 

Many of these and other points he made are obvious. So is the minister’s failure to address issues that are critical to the industry and South Africa’s economic wellbeing. 

South Africa’s mining sector had such a bad relationship with Mantashe’s predecessor, the alleged Gupta puppet Mosebenzi Zwane – who has now been charged for his alleged role in the Estina Dairy project which left poor emerging farmers in the Free State high and dry – that the Minerals Council at one point stopped talking to him and would not even show up at events where he spoke. 

Now its relations with Mantashe have cooled, and it’s the minister who is not pitching up. (For Zwane, the lure was probably always the free food – a cadre has to chow.) 

It’s a pity, because, as Cutifani pointed out, mining is critical. It needs a regulator that is not distracted by miracles such as the resurrection of the Western Cape ANC. And if South Africa ever gets a functional cadastre, that too will be a miracle. DM/BM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Smith says:

    First they scared away the investors by advocating their plan to nationalise mines. Next the ANC refuses to sign the mining charter. Then after many year they lost the case about BEE shareholding.
    Limpopo Province just held a 2-day conference to promote opportunities in mining. Was this another party wasting time and money?

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Maybe he was out prospecting for that elusive mineral (that is non existent ] that he announced at a previous mining conference.
    I can picture him as Dopey from the 7 dwarves leading his intrepid team of prospectors with their picks and lanterns swinging, singing, ‘ I ho, I ho, its off to work I go” at least the Dwarves had an entertainment value

    • Peter Smith says:

      Ironically, South Africa does have an abundant resource that can be “mined”. Globally, South Africa is in the top 2. It is called Solar Energy. Unlike most countries, the difference between winter and summer is only 15%. Infrastructure can be financed through carbon offset agreements.

  • Alastair Stalker says:

    I would speculate that the two companies mentioned are not BBBEE compliant and refuse to become so. Thus they are not on the Government’s list of preferred bidders (i.e. they are not run by cadres and are not prepared to “donate” to the ANC). I wonder what an accurate cadastre would show- which comrades have been given rights and where. What a tragedy !!!

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    The key question; how does this serial underperformer hold onto his job. He is complicit in the energy crisis as well!! It is beyond pathetic and explains why SA is rocketing to the bottom. He and his ilk don’t understand the impact of their shocking incompetence!!

    • Ryckard Blake says:

      Yet National Union of Mineworkers want Ramaphosa to take Eskom out from under its current minister (Pravin Gordhan) and put Mantashe in charge.
      Go figure.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The problem of an arrogant Minister who is at loggerheads with key players in the industry does not help. A Minister with self – importance like Mantashe has no place in a Cabinet. Mining is one of the industries that requires huge investments and its Capex is very staggering. The industry is a major foreign exchange earner for the country that is require to purchase intermediate goods for production by other industries as well as itself. As a former mining union leader he ought to understand its dynamics and is not required to be friends to the mining executives but to be available not as a holy spirit, to help facilitate more investments in the industry. International Conferences are important but international investors take cue from the existing local investors that he insult with regularity or threatens them as if our country is his uncle’s farm. Ministers like him who lack tact and mannerism required of Ministers need to be shown the door. This is because even if he says valid things his mannerism turns people away or receives a knee jerk rejection of whatever he says. Sometimes is not what you say but how you say it. Ramaphosa, who puts a political premium on
    the ANC not the country is also becoming a liability to our country.

  • Patrick Devine says:

    The damage being done to the SA economy by this arrogant, openly corrupt, and inept minister, is shameful and disgusting.

    Mantashe is literally taking food (and opportunities) out of the mouths of millions of very poor people.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    I no longer expect anything from any of our ANC Ministers – they’re mostly useless, uneducated, uncivilised, and just don’t care! What a completely useless bunch. They’ve obviously never heard the saying…”manners maketh the man” and even if they had…they still don’t care!

  • Nick Griffon says:

    To be honest, what value would a speech by Gwede add to any event.
    The event was probably better without him. He is the single biggest obstacle to growth in the SA economy at the moment. Without a doubt.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    How long will the mining industry carry on with this minister and his department impeding their every move?.. Will we be left with Gwede and the Zama zamas after the legit guys have packed their bags? It doesn’t seem such a remote possibility.

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