A mine worker returns from the Lonmin mine at the end of his shift, outside Rustenburg. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
A mine worker returns from the Lonmin mine at the end of his shift, outside Rustenburg. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Two articles arising from the Mining Indaba beg a response. Lisa Steyn’s report, “Ramaphosa’s Stirring Speech Hits the Right Notes at Mining Indaba, but Will he Match it with Follow-through?” (February 5) on the president’s address to the conference bubbles with misplaced enthusiasm.

That he made the right noises was unremarkable — former president Jacob Zuma often did so. Whether this means anything substantive is less certain. Promises of regulatory certainty, for example, are nothing new. SA has been lethargically “working towards” this goal for years. And though it is positive that some agreement has been reached on the Mining Charter, is this policy’s destination or merely a waypoint? Does more “uncertainty” await the industry with a revised and more onerous iteration a few years from now?

And on expropriation without compensation, Steyn confirms Ramaphosa offered essentially nothing. Pledging that the policy would enhance property rights seems distinctly counterintuitive when its thrust is to afford the state increased discretion to derive people and businesses of their assets.

In the second article, “Mining Indaba’s Focus on Wooing Investors is Deeply Flawed” (February 4), Christopher Rutledge argues that the unequal distribution of benefits from mining probably outweighs the contribution the industry makes to the economy. In arguing that surrounding communities fail to benefit adequately from mining operates, he is far from alone.

However, as a forthcoming report from the Institute of Race Relations will show, mining is a keystone industry in SA. Though no longer the great driver it once was, it still accounts for about 8% of GDP, 5% of employment and roughly a third of exports. It also plays a key role in the country’s value chains. Without mining, not only would hundreds of thousands of households be poorer, but the capacity for social payments would be smaller and our balance of payments placed in an untenable position. Much economic activity far beyond the mine gate would not exist.

While it should certainly not be exempt from scrutiny and criticism — we would add that the developmental gaps in “mining communities” owe more to failures in governance than to the actions or omissions of mining companies” — the mining industry remains an asset we can ill afford to sacrifice.

Terence Corrigan, project manager, Institute of Race Relations