Business Maverick

SIGNS OF LIGHT?

Baton changes hands at Minerals Council while Mantashe indicates progress on cadastre system

Baton changes hands at Minerals Council while Mantashe indicates progress on cadastre system
New Minerals Council CEO Mzila Mthenjane. (Photo: Supplied)

Exxaro’s Mzila Mthenjane was appointed as new CEO of the Minerals Council SA at its AGM on Wednesday, taking over from the departing Roger Baxter. Meanwhile, mining minister Gwede Mantashe said the shortlist of companies bidding to provide a functional mining cadastre is down to five.

Exxaro executive Mzila Mthenjane will take over as CEO of the Minerals Council in June, replacing Roger Baxter, an affable economist who has been at the Council’s helm since 2015. The head of stakeholder engagements at coal producer Exxaro, Mthenjane is being handed the torch as the tunnel ahead is strewn with challenges ranging from the power crisis to procurement mafias to Transnet’s ongoing train smash. 

“We are pleased to appoint someone of Mzila’s experience and ability to the role of Minerals Council CEO. He has, in his three decades of involvement in the mining and financial industries, garnered the experience the Minerals Council needs,” Minerals Council president Nolitha Fakude said.

“He is coming in when the focus of all stakeholders is now more on EESG (economic, environment, social and governance) matters, with mining expected to play a significant role in this regard.”

That points to the Council’s priorities and Fakude subsequently said that “the ESG agenda” – which is high on corporate radar screens these days and has special resonance in South Africa’s fraught social environment – was crucial to its journey over the coming years.

As head of stakeholder engagement for a coal producer, Mthenjane is probably fit for purpose in such a role. 

Outgoing CEO Baxter, an articulate and passionate voice for the industry, has steered the 133-year-old organisation through some rough waters. He has led the council in countless engagements with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) over policy disputes, ranging from the spat over “once empowered, always empowered”, to efforts to allow mining companies to build their own renewable power plants. 

Mantashe was at the AGM and paid homage to Baxter’s leadership, noting pointedly that he and Baxter were on speaking terms, in stark contrast to his predecessor Mosebenzi Zwane.

“When I came here, I found the industry was not talking to the government,” Mantashe said. “Every time they wanted to talk, they would say, ‘Talk to my lawyers,’ and meet in court all the time. At least we are talking now. That in itself is an achievement.”

That may be true, but Zwane set a pretty low bar, and the industry has been engaging with the government often because of its unfolding failures over power supply, rail networks, and security, to name just some of the more pressing issues. 

“We must focus on the headwinds that our industry is facing,” Paul Dunne, Northam Platinum CEO, who is also vice-president at the Council, said at a press briefing on the sidelines of the AGM. 

“They are numerous … We have big issues [with] Eskom, Transnet and crime; they are very worrying to all of us. And these are the issues we are working on with the government, we can’t do it on our own,” he said. 

In his remarks to the AGM, Mantashe also provided an update on the tender for a functional mining cadastre – one of many failures that the industry has been engaging the government on – to replace the useless Samrad system for applying for various mining rights. Samrad’s dysfunctional state is blamed for application bottlenecks and is seen as a key obstacle to investment in South Africa’s mining sector, notably on the exploration front.

A mining cadastre is an online map portal that displays a country’s mineral wealth in a way that is easily accessible to the public. It also shows the state of play of mining and exploration rights as well as active mining operations in a country and allows companies to apply for various mining rights. 

In short, it provides transparency and efficiencies that have been sadly lacking when compared with other African states such as neighbouring Botswana.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Botswana’s mining cadastre reveals hydrocarbon scramble in iconic Kalahari game reserve

“I can tell you that we have now short-listed five providers (for the cadastre),” Mantashe said. 

Baxter, to his credit, has long been pushing the DMRE on this issue and has at times been outspoken about the snail’s pace of the process. A cadastre that provides the kind of transparency and functionality that Botswana’s does could be counted as one of his legacies if that is what emerges from the shortlist.

The winning bid is expected to be announced in July and the mining sector, along with the wider public, including conservationists, communities and farmers, waits with bated breath for the outcome.

The atmosphere at this AGM was congenial as it was Baxter’s farewell. Mantashe certainly seemed to be in a jovial mood. We’ll see if that mood obtains at next year’s AGM. DM

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