Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: TREVOR  SAMSON
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

At a gala dinner boycotted by the Chamber of Mines on the eve of the two-day Johannesburg Indaba mining conference, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane sounded a conciliatory tone, reaching out to the industry to resolve the impasse bedevilling relationships between the regulator and the sector.

Zwane, however, did not hold back from levelling criticism at those who denigrated the country and the mining sector, which is embroiled in a legal battle with the Department of Mineral Resources over the suspended third iteration of the Mining Charter.

Chamber CEO Roger Baxter said at the Africa Down Under mining conference in Australia in September the industry had lost confidence in Zwane, who, he said, had unresolved allegations of corruption hanging over him and officials in his department.

"I can’t go out as a minister and voice my anger in a foreign country that is irresponsible," he said. "I’m here. Fight me here."

But, speaking off the cuff, Zwane reached out to the industry to find a resolution to the court battles pending between the chamber and the minister and his department to have a judicial review of the charter and another legal challenge seeking a declaratory order around the matter of whether past empowerment deals had continuing consequences or if mining companies had to perpetually top up ownership levels to those stipulated in the charter.

He mixed his metaphors when it came to calling for debate around the handling of his demands for "radical economic transformation" of the mining sector, using speed limits and glasses of brandy to explain how he had one desire and the industry another and that the two sides had to talk.

"I’m engaging with all stakeholders to say, what do you want?" Zwane said, as the chamber and department prepare to square off in front of a full bench of judges early in December to argue about the third charter.

Zwane said if the parties moved away from having their arguments in the media and instead locked themselves in a room then solutions could be found.

"If people are not happy they can go to court. If I’m not happy about them going to court I go to them and say why do you take this black minister to court? Can we not engage?" he said.

One delegate, who declined to be named, said Zwane’s conciliatory tone was "too little too late and where is this suddenly coming from. We’ve really tried to engage him but nothing came of it. So, why now? There is no trust in this man."

Setting aside his overtures, Zwane had a dig at those in the industry who wanted to tell him how to do his job, acknowledging that he was not an expert when it came to mining. "Don’t help me produce legislation. You are not legislation producers. You are business people," he said.

The delegate explained the criticism of legislation was designed to raise awareness of the dire consequences and unintended consequences of those pieces of law.

Turning to the December elective conference of the African National Congress where the presidency of the party would be decided, Zwane said the matter had already been decided at branch level around the country and the result was already known within the party.

"We already know who will be president… It’s a done deal. We are not stressing. The policies won’t change. In January there will new leadership and policies will remain the same," he said.

seccombea@bdfm.co.za

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