Mining Indaba: light on news but good for networking
The FM rates the good, the bad and the tasty pastries at the 2020 Investing in African Mining Indaba
Now that the 26th Investing in African Mining Indaba has come to an end, traffic in Cape Town will return to normal, the astronomical prices at the chockful hotels will come down and rental cars will be available again — the about 7,000 delegates that took over the city this week are on their way back home.
The indaba positions itself as the world’s largest mining investment event, and the only one you need to go to. Attracting business, investors and media from far and wide, the event is not doubt a marketing triumph. The FM reflects on how it performed in 2020.
The programme was comprehensive yet impossibly vast. Wide-ranging topics covered key issues such as social impact, climate change and resource nationalism. In some instances the programme ran ahead of time, which is actually worse than running behind. On a few occasions moderators were left flummoxed on stage. For example, Roger Baxter, CEO of the Minerals Council SA, was meant to chair a panel of three SA ministers, only to discover that it was just he and the chair of a parliamentary committee that would be in conversation. Later, a last-minute appearance by new Transnet CEO Portia Derby also caught the moderator by surprise.
On the whole, the indaba’s upbeat mood was sustained from 2019. President Cyril Ramaphosa was not at the indaba, unlike last year, but mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe’s presence was felt. Though the Eskom issue weighed on the event, indaba veterans were still relieved that the dark days of Mosebenzi Zwane are over. Of course, the buoyant mood was probably also due to healthy commodity prices, which have some producers printing cash.
The indaba takes place in the first week of February and so by luck, or design, coincides with the hottest month of the year in Cape Town. Unfortunately, it also coincides with the closed periods for many SA mining companies. As a result, there isn’t much news that companies can let slip. Mantashe did come through with some striking announcements — about self-generation for industry as well as establishing a competitor to Eskom — which kept journalists busy for a good few hours before it became clear it was more smoke and mirrors than substance.
So it’s not exactly a villa in Tuscany, but the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) is probably as good a venue as you could hope for as far as conferencing facilities go, especially when hosting a crowd this size. Located on the Atlantic seaboard and a short walk away from the V&A Waterfront, it is close to swanky hotels and company headquarters. Load-shedding was well managed, with hardly an indication of power cuts. Well, apart from one instance where Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman’s presentation was cut short as equipment failed. Delegates were released for lunch and he was abruptly ushered to the dark backstage area, never to return.
Between all the breakfast, lunch and cocktail events, guests would not have gone hungry. At the conference centre itself, coffee was freely available, though not good enough for delegates to abuse the offering. What the lunchtime spreads lacked in flavour was made up for in abundance (a special shout-out to the tasty pastries, though). And an extra point is awarded for thoughtfulness as even vegans were catered for.
Being the world’s largest mining industry event, the indaba’s most valuable offering is that it gets everyone in the same place. It attracts a great many industry executives and decisionmakers to rub shoulders with. The trick, however, is finding them in the vast sea of investors and suppliers also in attendance. There were a few notable absentees, such as mining giant Glencore, though its people were holding meetings outside the conference. While meetings with stakeholders from abroad were prioritised, there were still opportunities for industry execs and policymakers to catch up.
For many, a big reason to attend the event is to generate business, but it is hard to know just how much indaba schmoozing ultimately leads to actual dealmaking. Organisers of the indaba say the event is moving back to its dealmaking roots, with “unparalleled dealmaking opportunities”. For the junior miners, the value is clear, particularly if participating in the “Investment Battlefield” — a platform from which to elevate their profile and potentially catch the eye of investors. The exhibition halls were also packed with stands for those wanting to get exposure for their brand. But as far as most public companies are concerned, no major deals have been announced to have come out of the indaba in 2020, or any others.