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State takeover of mines would be beneficial to South Africans – panellists

28th March 2014

By: Anine Kilian

Contributing Editor Online

  

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While the governing African National Congress (ANC) rejected the proposal to nationalise mines and other economic assets at its elective conference in Mangaung, in 2012, some lobbyists maintain that this would be beneficial to the country.

Speaking at a discussion panel hosted by the South African Civil Society Information Service (Sacsis) in Johannesburg earlier this month, Sacsis founder and executive director Fazila Farouk stated that nationalisation was not perceived with such negativity in other parts of the world.

“South Africa has 88% of the world’s platinum resources, 80% of the world’s manganese resources and 73% of the world’s chromium resources,” she said, pointing out that, despite this rich endowment, a large number of South Africans lived in poverty.

“The starting point when imagining a different future for South Africa is thinking about how to share its resources so that its prosperity is spread more evenly, which means raising the issue of nationalisation,” she stated.

Farouk added that nationalisation was a highly controversial and emotional topic shrouded in myth and misconceptions.

“We would like to set the record straight in terms of what nationalisation means,” she said.

The discussion panel consisted of anti-apartheid activist Ronnie Kasrils, black economic-empowerment (BEE) expert Duma Gqubule and Congress of South African Trade Unions strategies coordinator in the secretariat Neil Coleman.

“This is a very important topic,” said Kasrils, adding that South Africa was 20 years behind the times in terms of the way in which nationalisation was viewed.

He stated that nationalisation was not the swear word it became at the height of the neoliberal offensive.

“Capitalisation, privatisation and greed have brought us to where we are today,” Kasrils said, noting that the Freedom Charter stated that there should be control of economic wealth under social ownership for the benefit of the people.

“The key element of nationalisation revolves around human beings and people participation.”

Kasrils commented that South Africa had had 140 years of gold exploitation and platinum, chrome, diamonds and manganese continued to be exported from the country.

“The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) indicates that the mineral wealth is placed under the custodianship of the South African government for the benefit of the people, but, so far, nothing has been done for the benefit the country’s citizens,” he noted.

He added that the ANC’s ‘State Intervention in the Minerals Sector’ (Sims) document makes provision for a sovereign wealth fund for mining, which he dismissed as a sham.

“The ANC is part of a Faustian pact and has been distracted by issues such as Nkandla. I want to know if government is really serious about the Sims report and what is happening with it,” he said.

Kasrils commented that the wildcat strikes that took place at mining major Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana, near Rustenburg, in 2012, where 44 people were killed, agonised him, pointing out that the ‘mining massacre’ exploited a class issue.

“Government never once condemned the police for their actions. We are not assisting the poor in our country and when we can do that, South Africa will take control of its resources for the benefit of the people, which will enable the creation of a more harmonious society,” he said.

Gqubule stated at the event that nationalisation was not a political issue, but an economic one, elaborating that the most important aspect to keep in mind was that the mineral resources in the ground did not belong to the companies that mine them – they belonged to the South African people.

He stated that, for the State to manage mines in a way that would be economically beneficial to the people, the MPRDA and the Mining Charter needed redrafting.

“The MPRDA and the Mining Charter have several weaknesses, starting with the involvement of employees in the ownership of mines and communities benefiting from the royalties of the State,” Gqubule said.

He added that the Mining Charter was a “flawed” and “shameful” document and he could not understand why trade unions supported it.

“Some people may say that this debate has come too late, as the question of nationalisation has been put to bed but, in reality, it has only been deferred. I think that it is timely and correct to focus on nationalisation now, especially as people are too afraid to address it,” Gqubule stated.

By comparison, Coleman argued that nationalisation was not an economic debate, but a political one that revolved around power in society.

“The technical and economic issues can be addressed only once the question of power relations is addressed,” he said, adding that South Africa was paralysed by caution because, since 1994, the country had been afraid to do anything that would rattle the markets,” he said.

Coleman further commented that South Africa lacked the strategies and political will to use the space that was available to the country.

“If we look beyond the financial crisis, the entire neoliberal economic consensus has collapsed and I find it pathetic that our society has been unable to start engaging in the real discussions [of nationalisation] that need to take place,” he said

.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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