Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Mining companies in SA have been frozen out of consultation over regulatory changes that could dilute shareholders, raise costs and impose new levies to fund community development.

Last week, SA’s Cabinet approved a new draft of the country’s Mining Charter and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has promised it will be gazetted within weeks. Yet while labour leaders have been consulted on the long-delayed new rules, the Chamber of Mines, which represents producers, says it "does not have any insight" into the latest version and hasn’t met government officials on the subject since March.

The looming dispute threatens to prolong uncertainty and further slow spending in SA’s biggest export industry. Fixed investment in mining dropped in each of the past two years and companies, including Sibanye Gold, have warned that any new investment will be a tough sell in the current environment.

"The government and the Chamber of Mines haven’t really sat down on this issue, and much of the public discourse has been posturing by both sides," said John Meyer, a London-based analyst at SP Angel Corporate Finance. The industry may head to court if the government imposes harmful changes, the chamber said this month.

SA holds the biggest reserves of platinum, chrome and manganese. In 2010, Citigroup valued the mineral wealth at $2.5-trillion, the most of any nation, in which mining companies Anglo American, Glencore and AngloGold Ashanti operate.

The industry is particularly concerned about changes to black ownership requirements. Zwane shocked the sector last year with a draft charter that would require much of the industry to sell additional shares to maintain ownership levels after earlier investors sold their stakes.

The minister has now also proposed raising the minimum to 30% from 26%, two people familiar with the situation said last week. It’s unclear whether the Cabinet approved Zwane’s proposal, or if the new draft includes a provision allowing miners to claim credits for past deals where they have sold stakes or assets to black investors, even if the ownership has since changed.

Ayanda Shezi, a spokeswoman for the department, didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail request for comment.

"We’re not shy if we need to engage government in court processes," Roger Baxter, the chamber’s CEO, told reporters on May 24. "Government has the same route if they want to follow it."

The FTSE/JSE Africa Mining Index of 16 miners listed in Johannesburg has declined 34% over the past three years, compared to a 22% decline in the Bloomberg World Mining Index. The JSE gauge declined 2% to 21,627.16 points at 9.21am in Johannesburg.

SA’s push for increased black ownership of the mining industry is part of an effort to address the legacy of apartheid that locked the black majority out of key sectors. Yet critics say many deals have benefited the politically connected elite and deter foreign investors in the country.

While the industry remains in the dark, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest labour group in the sector, has had "in-depth stakeholder engagement" with Zwane’s department, according to Luthando Brukwe, the union’s head of transformation.

The NUM has asked the government that at least 10% of mining companies be owned by employees, Brukwe said in an interview. It should also be mandatory for producers to take steps to help employees own their homes, he said.

The union is opposed to the idea that mining companies get credit for sales to black investors who later dispose of the assets.

Us versus them

Zwane, who was appointed minister in 2015, has clashed repeatedly with the industry over issues that also included enforced safety stoppages. The revised mine-ownership rules will be published whether the industry agrees with them or not, he told reporters in February.

"The style of engagement is totally us-versus-them," Peter Major, head of mining at Cadiz Corporate Solutions, said by phone. "When I talk to anyone involved in mining they say it has never been more polarised."


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