Talk will not solve mining’s problems – by Business Day Live Editorial (August 14, 2014)

A DAY after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa endured searing cross-examination at the Marikana commission of inquiry, government and mining stakeholders convened in Midrand to discuss some of the very issues he was being made to answer for.

The state of South Africa’s mining industry has been debated ad nauseam in the past few years, in particular after the Marikana massacre in 2012. What has been lacking is a clear plan to not only resolve the issues causing so much conflict, but also to put the industry in a position to meet historically high expectations from across the spectrum.

When the mining lekgotla was first convened two years ago, hopes were high that it would result in concrete steps being taken to pull the sector back from the brink. Since then it has seen more conflict, which includes the longest protected strike in the history of the country, in platinum mines.

The sector has also not won any new friends through its contribution to transformation and broader social development. In turn, the matters that have dogged the industry’s competitiveness for years continue to be an obstacle to further growth.

Rising input costs, including for electricity and labour, look far from abating, while policy uncertainty continues in mineral resources law amendments that appear to remain unattended in the president’s in-tray.That is why the industry is now urging the president to sign them into law as soon as possible.

Of course, this all sounds familiar because it has happened before. South Africans, in particular the mining sector’s stakeholders, are very good at convening meetings and workshops but never seem to make much progress thereafter.

Should the gathering in Midrand go the way of previous meetings then it will be a terrible loss of opportunity. It takes place less than a week after the announcement of the medium-term strategy framework which has become central to the implementation of the National Development Plan.

The lekgotla should be the ideal platform for stakeholders to agree on a set of steps that may be taken jointly or individually to advance the interests of the sector and the economy. To these commitments should be added a structure to oversee their implementation, with clear timelines where possible.

This, however, will not happen. For starters there are already too many structures meant to manage the same problems. The Department of Mineral Resources has its own and so does President Jacob Zuma. All largely involve the same stakeholders listening to one another’s speeches in Midrand.

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