Opportunities for mining projects to create and sustain jobs are being jeopardised by a lack of the necessary planning by key government departments and the clashing of policies, which prevents the right decisions from being made in good time, argues SRK Consulting chairperson Roger Dixon.
He says that the mining industry risks losing momentum if these challenges are not dealt with urgently. He adds that a comprehensive plan to support and develop the industry is required to ensure that the various government departments contribute in an integrated way, and to build better cooperation between the industry and State bodies.
“[Tardiness in] the provision of infrastructure is one symptom of the industry’s lack of a coordinated approach. Industry has generated interest among foreign investors and mining companies, for instance, in terms of its policy to promote more beneficiation from minerals. “But, when these companies want to develop projects here, it is often discovered that industry cannot guarantee the transport, water and energy services needed,” says Dixon.
He adds that, even when industry seems to be making efforts to deal with these shortfalls, such as improving rail networks, there is difficulty in finding detailed information on what parastatal bodies are planning.
“South Africa needs to advertise the fact that the country is working on its problems, and let the private sector, both here and abroad, know about these plans,” he said.
A strategic plan for the mining sector would also help government departments to make decisions that do not conflict with one another.
Pumping water out of mines and tackling water pollution are key issues for the sector. However, Dixon adds, government decisions coming from the relevant departments can be at odds with each other owing to an absence of a common policy goal.
“Water resources exist on the West Rand, but will be expensive to treat. Mining companies battle to find someone to engage with so that a workable solution to this issue can be jointly developed. “There is often an ‘us versus them’ attitude that erodes the possibility of constructive cooperation between the public and private sectors,” says Dixon.
There also seems to be contradictory policy on the future of coal mining in South Africa, he says.
“On the one hand, the country’s energy plans rely on coal-fired power stations, while, on the other, South Africa committed in Copenhagen to actions that would result in a 34% emission reduction by 2020 and 42% by 2025. “Are these two commitments mutually compatible?” asks Dixon.
Better collaboration would also help to implement existing policies, he adds. Mining Charter targets, for instance, have had a positive effect on employment equity and social development; but, unless there is shared responsibility with the State, the life of many mines will be reduced by this burden.
“If industry works more effectively with government agencies on various levels, it stands a better chance of extending its life and improving its empowerment impact – instead of having to choose between the two,” says Dixon.
“Government also needs to take a hard look at how empowerment efforts in ownership terms are benefiting the ordinary mineworker. “To date, South Africa does not seem to have a good record of ensuring that empowerment trickles down to those that really need it,” says Dixon.
Finding and implementing a shared vision for the sector means boosting government capacity with specialised technical skills that relate to minerals development and its related disciplines, including areas like the environment, licensing and health and safety.
“By taking a proactive and collaborative approach, we can achieve much more. The survival of the mining industry depends on it,” says Dixon.