Bernard Swanepoel. Picture: SUPPLIED
Bernard Swanepoel. Picture: SUPPLIED

There is a sense of frustration among junior and small miners that they are being largely sidelined in the talks between new Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe and industry players, according to Bernard Swanepoel, chairman of the Small Business Initiative (SBI).

He said the new version of the Mining Charter could be challenged in court by small mining companies if their responses were not sought and incorporated in the document that drives transformation of the South African mining industry.

Mantashe has met the Chamber of Mines, unions and the South African Mining Development Association, which purportedly represents junior mining but has a tiny membership and cannot claim to represent hundreds of small mining companies. While not claiming to represent the junior mining sector, the SBI has a large number of junior mining companies that are part of the more than 100 municipal business chambers that make up the institute’s membership.

After talks with a number of these companies, Swanepoel and others have drawn up a submission to provide input for the charter talks.

The chamber, whose members produce 90% of the value of SA’s mined production, is at the forefront of the talks, but Swanepoel argues that the majority of those mining companies are large and a number of them have moved their listings or operations offshore.

Swanepoel named the likes of Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields, while others, such as Kumba Iron Ore and Anglo American Platinum, are majority owned by London-listed Anglo American.

The junior companies should be excluded from a number of the clauses in the charter, which could be afforded by large companies but were prohibitively expensive for medium and small companies employing less than 200 or 50 people and with annual turnover of R30m and R7.5m, respectively, he said, drawing on feedback from the annual Junior Indaba he organises and chairs and which draws up to 300 delegates a year.

"If the voices of junior miners aren’t heard then the charter can’t apply to us. Surely there is some fairness and common sense that will apply.

"This is what is fundamentally wrong. How can two groups like the department and the chamber make rules in the absence of the rest of us when there’s not adequate involvement," he said, pointing out he was in a company that bought the Mooiplaats colliery and qualified as a junior miner.

"In terms of the Small Business Development Act, there is an obligation on all spheres of government to consider the impact on small business of things like this.

"We need to make legislators think small first. There’s a democratic piece of legislation that can be used [to] force government to do so.

"I would be extremely surprised and disappointed if the charter looks and smells like it currently looks and smells with such clear negative impacts on small mining businesses if the minister of small business does nothing, but that’s a fair expectation, and if some organisation doesn’t contemplate taking it on review," he said. "As chairman of SBI, I’d be very interested."

The department said junior companies were encouraged to give their inputs. "Consultations are continuing, with various affected mining communities’ representatives across the country being next.

"This does not in any way preclude other interested and affected parties from making their inputs to the draft charter before it is finalised and gazetted," the department said.

The chamber’s transformation executive, Tebello Chabana, said that included in the lobbying group’s 72-strong member- ship were three associations representing quarrying and aggregate operations, clay brick producers and diamond miners, covering dozens of junior and emerging miners.

"We’ve canvassed their views and, sure, while the big companies have louder voices, we are taking those views into the talks to see how they can be accommodated," Chabana said.

seccombea@bdfm.co.za