Gwede Mantashe sees no reason to punish miners whose BEE partners sell for a quick buck
The new minister, who says talks on a new charter are 80% done, also has a word of warning for the Optimum business rescue practitioners
Talks on a new Mining Charter are about 80% completed and the new document guiding transformation of the South African mining sector will be ready and gazetted in May, giving the industry greater policy confidence, says Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe.
He says the Department of Mineral Resources will not appeal against a High Court ruling that found in favour of the Chamber of Mines, when the chamber applied for a declaratory order on the continuing consequences of past deals and that mining companies are not obliged to perpetually top up their black ownership levels to at least 26% in line with the first two charters.
Mantashe, who has been involved in the mining industry for three decades, said at a one-day platinum conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday that he had no tolerance for empowerment partners who "speculated" on their shares in a mining company and sold out quickly to make an easy profit, but he also singled out mining companies that treated their partners incorrectly.
Instead of insisting on blanket compliance with ownership, the department would investigate companies’ empowerment credentials on a case-by-case basis, Mantashe said. Companies whose partners had skipped out with a quick profit should "not be punished".
The department was quite prepared to go to court "every day" to test the merits of companies arguing about their empowerment levels, he said.
The first two charters set empowerment ownership at 26% and the third charter, which was suspended, pegged it at 30%. Mantashe’s predecessor, Mosebenzi Zwane, gazetted the third charter in June 2017 and sent the market into a downward spiral.
Mantashe and his department have launched fresh negotiations over the charter to address deep industry concerns about it, with the chamber postponing a court challenge to review and set aside the third charter. The ownership level is one of the key points in the talks.
Mantashe said one of his main tasks in office was to restore trust between the department and a wide range of stakeholders, including the industry, labour and communities, while at the same time expediting regulatory and policy certainty to give the sector a base from which to grow.
Mantashe said he’d spoken to the National Council of Provinces to expedite amendments to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act that have been in the works since 2012 and were returned by then-president Jacob Zuma in 2015 to correct what his legal team said were constitutional problems with the document presented to him for signing into law.
Turning to Optimum Colliery, one of four mines owned by the Gupta family and which is now in a business rescue programme, Mantashe said the company that had said it was buying the three coal mines — a shadowy Switzerland-registered company called Charles King — has been unable to provide documents to prove its deal.
Mantashe called Charles King a "façade" and said it was the "Guptas coming in with a different face".
"I told the business rescue practitioners to not give Optimum to these thugs," he said, adding he wanted a credible South African mining company taking ownership of the mine and two other Gupta-related collieries, with a strong emphasis on black economic empowerment.
While the department would sign off on the transfer of mining rights to a new owner, there was no other guidance it could give to the practitioners, Mantashe said.