Transformed to Death

Before dismissing Susan Shabangu’s recent outburst – when she unleashed her unwarranted, vicious and, frankly, ill informed attack on mine owners and managers – as populist and Malema-ish, should consider her influence in the upper echelons of the ANC and government. Those dismissing her ranting as ill-informed vitriol are well advised to take note of the fact that the President and Bheki Cele’s favourite and general flavour-of-the-month, “Shoot-to kill” slogan was originally coined by the same Shabangu in her role as Deputy Minister of Police. Now, we all know that once a term is accepted and embraced by the alliance, it automatically elevates the creator to “struggle-hero” status and we know you do not mess with ANC icons.

The honourable Minister had the temerity to suggest that the mining industry does not do enough in the way of advancement of blacks. She accused the sector of falling short in skills training, this, despite the fact that the mining sector has been singled out as having done more than any other South African industry in the field of skills training and development. 

What the Minister conveniently forgot when calling for more black managers in operations is the small, but very critical, predicament that the schools, because of government’s lack of delivery, cannot supply sufficiently educated people to tertiary institutions for training in technical fields. The few engineers that do obtain degrees and diplomas are either white or get their qualifications at the behest of mine owners who walk the extra mile to ensure the success of their black students.

Once the students passed the degree or diploma course required to enter the industry, some, due to lack of motivation and a boycott culture, again instilled by the government of the day, having enrolled for industry examinations do not bother to turn up for the examination or perform abysmally because of a non-existant learning culture. The low quality od education are acknowledged widely throughout the government leadership with Shabangu and the Minister of Education probably the only leaders oblivious of the problem. The people singled out and chosen to lead the industry are producing the worst exam results the industry has seen – the leaders of the future, it seems, requires a lowering of standards, against which their success will be measured – entitlement before competence it seems. Possibly a good thing since it may reduce their chances of spotting their Ministers incompetence. 

Shabangu’s singling out of procurement and ownership – as the areas other than operations to be targeted – are perhaps more surprising than her crusade for faster transformation in operations management. The reality is that, as in training, the mining industry has done more than any other industries as far as black ownership is concerned. According to the Chamber of Mines, the industry handed more than R 200 Billion in value to black owners in the last seven years. The BEE efforts has been so successful, the honorable minister’s comrades in NUMSA are for the nationalisation of the wealth of the two most successful recipients of BEE handouts, Sexwale and Motsepe. 

The demand for more black power in procurement management seems even more mystifying to the uninformed observer, especially in the light of ESKOM’s spectacular failure, to a large extent, as a result of the transformed procurement function in that desperate organisation. 

Analysing the three areas singled out for accelerated and revolutionary transformation, one finds a golden thread running through it. The Golden Thread of empowerment for the selected few; Labour wanting more managers and less work for more money; the new ruling elite needing their fair entitlement to ownership whilst their cronies demand unhindered access to the huge spending power of the mining industry.   

By waving the review of the Mining Charter as a stick, to beat mine owners with, serves little purpose in encouraging investors to enter and or re-enter a key industry and major supplier of desperately needed employment. Contrary to the teachings of the ever popular, “Struggle Economics for Dummies – A South African View” by Julius Malema, threats do not entice investors to part with their money draw investment. Consequently, major global miners are leaving our shores in droves, scared of by government regulation, labour cost and labour relations. 

Shabangu whilst admitting the negative effect of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002 and the Mining Charter V 1, in the same breath, blames mining companies for not fighting the effects of the law with more dynamism. How far removed from reality is that? Does the minister suggest a man, working in the WTC on 9/11, could’ve saved his life by standing in the window, gesticulating wildly at the approaching aircraft, in a desperate attempt to aim the gargantuan missile at a higher level in the building – hoping that, if successful, it will leave him an opportunity to flee down the fire escape – before all hell brakes loose. 

The reality is that the South African mining contracted during the boom years whilst mining grew by 5% and more in most other countries. The contraction is attributable to government policy (BEE, AA and tenure of ownership), the LRA, unrealistically high wages. Mining in South Africa has become so expensive that Xstrata can now mine steam coal in the USA cheaper than in South Africa. Because of the present mining investment milieu, global miners like BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Barrick has stopped investment or at best have their investments pegged to sustain current operations. In many instances, the major miners have moved capacity elsewhere. The only remaining foreign investors are Toronto Securities Exchange gamblers and Canadian Minors investing in platinum. 

Given the Minister’s threatening demeanor, combined with the ascendancy of the unions and the ESKOM disaster looming large, we can expect the situation to worsen rapidly in the next five years with the ultimate collapse of the industry inevitable. 

The ill-informed views of Shabangu can be ascribed to incompetent, under-qualified and inexperienced officials in her department. Officials in the Deparment of Minerals are not unlike their incompetent peers in other departments, the main difference being Shabangu, who unlike her peers, prefer not to hold them accountable, probably not understanding what they do. I’m almost certain her DG must have informed her of the dismal performance of prospective managers in industry exams.   

Malema’ call for nationalisation, initially backed by Shabangu before making the familiar U-turn should not faze owners too much. Given the fading fortunes of the industry there will soon be very little to nationalise. Perhaps Shabangu believes her populist attitude will bring her glory in the gloomy future she perpetuates. 

Maybe the minister should stick to her knitting and join the free-for-all killing spree she mooted during her tenure as Deputy Minister of Police.

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