Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

For us, as the mining industry and indeed as ordinary South Africans, 2017 was for the most part the "worst of times". But the year ended on a positive note with the election of a new ANC president, who was later elected president of the country, and the appointment of Gwede Mantashe as mineral resources minister, along with several other appointments. These moves opened new possibilities, not only for mining but for the country as a whole.

In 2017, the mining industry’s safety performance, measured by the number of people who had died in accidents, regressed for the first time in 23 years. And so far in 2018, 34 people have lost their lives.

These deaths are unacceptable. The industry’s leadership is committed to resuming the path of continuing safety improvements to reach our ultimate goal of zero harm.

The past year was also important because we as an industry found our leadership voice and stood up to be counted. It is not our strategy to run to the courts or seek public battles with the government. That the issues around the Mining Charter came to that was a last resort.

We are fully committed to the transformation of our industry, and this industry has, arguably, done more than any other to transform. But we could not remain silent when the wheels of the state were actively working against the industry’s sustainability and the interests of companies, employees, communities and the many millions of South Africans who are ultimately owners of the mining companies.

Without nurturing and long-term investment in the sector, SA’s mineral deposits will add no value to the country

The reality of mining in SA over the past few years is that the industry is in crisis. The country was ranked 47th out of 91 mining jurisdictions for investment attractiveness by the Fraser Institute Survey. In the past three years, greenfields investment has largely been placed on hold, and in 2016 real mining GDP was less than in 1994.

These staggering facts clearly indicate that mining is not fulfilling its true economic and transformational potential. As much as people talk about the huge mineral potential of SA, the reality is that without a nurturing environment that encourages long-term investment in the sector, those mineral deposits will remain sterile and add no value to the country.

On Tuesday, we revealed the new name, logo and purpose for the former Chamber of Mines – now the Minerals Council. This decision was not taken lightly. We understand that a new logo will not create a new legacy, but it is a symbol of the industry’s efforts and aspirations. In all that the Minerals Council does, we will represent and lead members in a way that reflects our vision and values. Through our membership compact, members will be held accountable for the commitments they have made.

The Minerals Council will play its part in working with the government and other stakeholders to revive SA’s economy. It is our quest to reposition the mining sector as SA’s pre-eminent industrial sector by creating a competitive and transformed industry that realises the country’s mineral wealth for the benefit of all.

Our overriding aim is to "reboot" the industry. We envisage growing a vibrant, competitive, innovative, productive and transforming mining sector that will deliver on the National Development Plan’s vision of increased, more inclusive, economic growth. We want SA to be an investment destination of choice for mining.

While the mining industry has long contributed to the economy, its history is not without its flaws. For 128 years the Chamber of Mines played an integral role in SA’s mining history.

This change in name signals our desire to build a new legacy and create a future of which all South Africans can be proud. And while we accept our past, we do not accept that we cannot make things better for the country’s future.

Efforts made in recent times to accelerate the pay-out of the retirement fund holdings of former miners is an example of what can be done through co-operation and careful strategic planning.

We are proud of the efforts of those gold mining companies that participated in the silicosis class action settlement. And we are pleased with the work done jointly to improve administration of the compensation fund operated by the Department of Health. Continued improvements in dust management remain critical in mitigating occupational lung disease.

No doubt we will continue to be challenged. But we now have a far more positive political environment than that of recent years. Our members’ commitment to mining in an effective and responsible manner will ensure fair returns and benefits for all stakeholders.

• Mgojo is president of the Minerals Council SA (formerly the Chamber of Mines). This is an extract from his address at the recent 128th annual general meeting.