Malema’s Mines; The end of the Road?

September 8, 2010

As a result of a “Beneficiation Policy” existing pre-1994 South Africa moved from being a primary Chrome Ore exporter in the 70’s to the world’s biggest Ferrochrome producer in the 80’s with output of ferrochrome reaching a peak in 2004, never realising the full revenue potential of the resource boon that ended towards middle 2008. Pre-1994, as a result of the vision, the availability of ferrochrome, the knowledge, skills and the other required resources, a fledgling Stainless Steel developed – a development that came to a grinding halt post-1994.

 Logically, a country having the best and largest chrome ore resource in the world, the ability to generate electricity, plenty full iron ore and steel, knowledge and skills and millions of unemployed people, should be the prime producer and supplier of the bulk of the world’s stainless steel – requirements – an essential building block for the rampant growing economies of the world; the so called BRIC companies the ANC government is so infatuated with. Instead, like other mineral resources, South Africa’s output of stainless steel and ferrochrome has stagnated with the only area of growth being the export of raw, low value chrome ore to China who, being more competitive, negates the excessive shipping cost, produces ferrochrome and stainless steel. The country that should be producing the stainless steel ends up an importer of its beneficiated chrome ore and ferrochrome. The jobs needed by South Africans having gone to China, entrenching the negative trade balance existing between the countries.

 The reasons for this sad state of affairs are seated in the difference in approach between South Africa on the one hand and China and India on the other hand. In South Africa, government policy – or rather the lack of clear policy; the threat to tenure by government and the ANC; the power of labour, supported by the Industrial Relations Act and the consequent uncompetitive cost of relatively lowly skilled employees and the migration of professional and management skills, due to affirmative action and the general over- or perhaps misdirected- regulation of mining, are choking the mining industry to a slow death. In China and India labour cost is governed by the market and trade unions have limited power. Education levels are high and there are incentives to enter into mining ventures whilst technological development is a priority.

 In his address to the Mining for Change Conference, Joel Netshitenze, ANC strategist and member of the National Planning commission inferred that, after sixteen years in power, the ANC government has no Strategic National Plan for Mining and was still in the process of formulating a beneficiation policy. It is no wonder then that the advancement of chrome beneficiation has come to a grinding halt, with investors – not sure of anything connected with South Africa any longer – fleeing, having decided the SA mining industry is a place to be avoided.

With the recent cases of mineral rights being hi-jacked by politically connected people and the rumours of turmoil in the Department of Mineral Resources weighing heavy on their collective minds, investors and mine owners attending the aforementioned conference have to listen to the ANCYL president calling them thieves and robbers, promising to nationalise mines, disowning them in the process, whilst the Minister (Susan Shabangu) who, very dramatically, promised that nationalisation will never happen only over her dead body, are nowhere to be seen, having passed up her spot at the conference to a lesser person, no doubt.

 It is ironic that the industry that are able to create more jobs than most in a relatively short time is effectively murdered by the misguided ANC government. Misguided policies and ideology has left a once great and thriving industry struggling for survival.

The raiding of resources by connected politicians in the name of transformation has destroyed jobs and left most of the followers of the ANC poorer and disillusioned. The disappointment and disillusionment has created the environment for the Nationalisation Campaign of Julius Malema and the ANCYL.

 Members of the ANC are aware of the ease with which their leaders, without lifting a finger, become filthy rich by taking over title to the magnificent resources of this country – a fact clearly proven by Imperial Crown Trading who, by making a few photo copies and filing in some forms made R 900 million in the matter of six months. To these members the suggestions of their young hero makes sense. His promises, in their minds create opportunities not to be missed. The acceptance given to Malema, by parliamentarians, when he presented his ideas a few months ago, bears witness of the popularity of his ideas. Be warned.

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Jacob Zuma’s Leaking Begging Bowl

August 26, 2010

Tom Albanese, CEO of Rio Tinto, said that said the company was “underinvested” in Africa. This hot on the heels of the announcement recently that Rio Tinto sold a large part of their stake in Palabora Mining and a large proportion of their prospecting and mineral rights. 

Rio Tinto does not stand alone. In the past week Xstrata announced a huge expansion project in Mauritania. A company holding some of the best ferrochrome assets in the world right here in South Africa find Mauritania less risky than South Africa? Surely something is wrong?  

The Xstrata decision is better understood when we read that Mark Bristow, South African CEO of Randgold Resources, prefers to invest in a DRC project rather than a South African project. If that is not enough, Harmony Gold announced that a project to sink a new shaft has been canned. 

Why this nonsensical decisions? I’ll tell you why;

In SA your mineral rights could be stolen by the family and close connections of the President – Sishen, ICT (Zuma, Gupta) 

In SA the labour is expensive and uncompetitive, their laziness being insttutionalised by government and legislation 

In SA management are vilified and threatened.

In SA, what is not stolen by the connected has to handed over to connected politicians in BEE deals 

In SA there are no skills, the skilled manager’s work abroad for the big mining houses 

It is because of this that we have fly-by-nights such as Khulubuse Zuma and Kodwa Mandela starting up companies like Aurora Mining; companies designed to destroy value whilst filling the pockets of their principals with money from “investors” with dark agendas. 

It is no wonder then that people with “Ubuntu integrity” like Lazarus Zim – Chairman of Kumba and closely connected with the crowd who effectively stole the Sishen Mineral Rights from Kumba – the failed Tokyo Sexwale and Mzi Khumalo replaced people like Marius Kloppers (BHP), Mick Davis (Xstrata) and Jan Du Plessis (Rio Tinto) as the great South African Magnates. In the modern and transforming South African, mining magnate is understood to be someone like the crooked swindler and ANC darling, Brett Kebble. How much further shall we fall.

No wonder then that whilst the rest of Africa has to fight of Chinese investors, eager to get their grubby little hands on their mineral resources, Jacob Zuma has to make speeches in Beijing in a tone of voice one would normally associate with that coming from a beggar, urging the Chinese to invest in our resources. 

Perhaps Zuma will still learn that mining requires huge investment and investors, no matter how rich, will not invest in business that could be stolen or driven into bankruptcy by a workforce that does not know the meaning of the term, work ethic


The Great Resource Scam

July 6, 2010

We recently witnessed, without to much fanfare and hardly a whisper of gnashing teeth, one of the biggest robberies off, in Malema’s words; “the mineral resources lying below the South African soil”, belonging to the people – in a truly socialist sense – of South Africa. The resources robbed was not diamonds, or indeed platinum and gold; it was lowly iron ore – the feedstock of the ferocious Chinese and Indian industries. The robbers, ironically, was not evil white colonialists neither were the vile Apartheid era oppressors; they were not even mighty imperialist raiders from Europe and North America – no; in this case the robbers were local people; heroes conspiring with new age Moguls to relieve the people of their hard fought wealth.

In this intriguing tale of robbery and deceit a whole chunk of iron ore reserves were stolen from an unsuspecting Kumba iron ore by master of deceit Jagdish Parekh – agent of the Gupta brothers, big friends of; you guessed it; Jacob Zuma and partners. Parekh and his cohorts in Imperial Crown Trading – Kgalema Mothlanthe, Duduzane Zuma and others – invariably with the help of loyal cadres in the Department Minerals – illicitly used stolen Kumba documents to apply for the mineral rights which was conveniently allowed to lapse by another company run by modern day moguls; Accelor Mital. The chairman of the company – victim of the scam; Kumba Iron – was none other than Lazarus Zim, co-owner; with the Guptas; of a company called Afripalm.

For those not grasping it all yet; besides the shenanigans of the politicians and their appendices – Mothlanthe, Zuma and others – which is anyway expected and par for the course, we have a situation where the honourable Mr. Zim seems to be closely connected to the band of raiders – RCT and stand to gain handsomely from this latest scheme to enrich and reward the select few with the spoils of the struggle. Whilst Zim plots with the raiders, he remains the chairman – receiving a handsome fee for his efforts – of the company, KUMBA Iron, which will be irreparably harmed by the actions of its chairman and friends. Now, unless I’m mistaken, to be the chairperson of a public company requires a high level of integrity and the chairperson of such companies are expected to have the best interest of the company at heart.

This case presents a clear conflict of interest and to call Zim a man of integrity would be stretching the truth. Instead of taking the honourable route and resign as chairman, Zim, after being pushed, agreed to recuse himself from KUMBA board discussions involving the ICT issue – a very convenient arrangement. He can use that time and over a cup of coffee, can discuss ICT strategy with the Guptas, young Zuma and Parekh.

My gripe today however is not with Zim; after all his actions are not extraordinary. Truth be told, I would’ve been extremely surprised; even shocked had he acted in a different manner. My gripe is with the board of Kumba who, petrified of being called racist or anti-transformation, accept the untenable situation; the only sign of resistance; an odd cowardly remark dropped in passing by board members hoping to placate their nagging consciences.

Board members fearing the racist label are the same people running around claiming, after the fact, their innocence and rabid opposition to apartheid. Today these captains of industry are as silent as their predecessors in the apartheid years; a silence then, that only broke when they saw the writing on the wall. Once again these brave men of integrity are carefully watching for the writing to appear; the sign for them to allow their integrity to once again burst into the open.

My message to these captains of industry; moral pillars of big business; stock up on bully beef and candles, fill up the water cans; there is a long wait ahead – I hope you will find your integrity and values at the end of your vigil.


The ANC, Australia and the Super miners

June 11, 2010

 

Some may wonder why South Africa missed the boat, so to speak, during the last resource boon. Why did most resource rich countries, notably some of our African peers and in particular Australia, outperform South Africa by miles?

The answer lies in the policies of the ruling party, and not having learned a thing, the brilliant Fred Gona, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources, having flipped the Chamber of Mines the proverbial bird by not reading their objections to the course being plotted, are dead set on engineering a “compromise” that will satisfy Julius Malema’s nationalisation dreams and the Anti-Malema faction with the establishment of a state owned super mining company to be managed in the same effective manner as ESKOM, SABC, Denel, Transnet and SAA; a company which will, with the assistance of the taxpayer, distribute great riches to the deployed and their patrons. Like Malema, the well informed Gona assures us that, despite popular belief and countless reports to the contrary, South Africa remain the most mineral rich country in the world.

Ever wondered why foreign investors are not falling over their feet to invest in this untold mineral wealth? To add substance to the learned Mr. Gona’s claims we just have to look at the Pamodzi/Aurora great gold venture. For those who have not followed the saga; a year or so ago, Pamodzi Gold Mining Company – a company scavenging off the remains of mostly worked out gold mines, effectively abandoned by the bigger players reluctant to invest in these carcasses because of prohibitive regulations, restrictive labour practices and other risks – ran out of cash. Having assured investors of a major foreign investor, who subsequently miraculously disappeared, they; Pamodzi, went into liquidation with the only benefactors the BEE partners and their patrons – the directors.

The liquidators soon announced that Aurora, a company high on big names – Zuma, Mandela and Hulley better known for mining dirt in Presidential trials – but light on management savvy; with the backing of a filthy rich Malaysian, will take over Pamodzi. For good measure they will ad Primrose Mining who owns mines that were mined to extinction a century ago, to their magnificent portfolio. The Malaysian disappeared into the remote forests of Borneo it seems; the mines produced nothing but polluted water which was pumped, untreated, into the surrounding streams; the workers were not paid and apparently starved of the property but these small challenges did not deter the great new age miners. They soon found a new backer but somehow the tight fisted greedy bastard became dodgy and, much to the delight of many – including the great number of ANC parliamentarians who lauded and cheered Malema’s nationalization submission to Parliament – the liquidators announced that a Chinese Consortium are preparing an offer to take over this poisoned chalice.

Given the hullabaloo over the super mining tax proposed by the Australian Government, with the giants of the Mining world BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata threatening to take their toys and go play elsewhere, many must be wondering why the global miners are so relaxed about the intention of the ANC and the future of their investments in South Africa, especially in view of Gona’s tales of the untold mineral riches lying below our soil. Truth is; they’ve are here; they’ve experienced mining in South Africa and they don’t like. The big players do not trust the direction of the industry, they dislike the uncompetitve labour set-up and anarchic unions demanding pay way beyond their skill level; they do not take kindly to the implied and the real threats to their tenure. Knowing Africa however, they remain condescending. Their attitude; keep quiet, patronize them whilst sweating the assets, discount the in the balance sheet, they build for the distant future, twenty-thirty years hence, when, like with Zambia and the DRC, they can walk right back in, this time invited, and, in the ashes of a decimated industry find a few embers to nurture and build into new industry on their terms.

The rosy picture of our mineral wealth, pictured by some, is belied by the behaviour of BHP Billiton, a company with its roots in South Africa and being steered by a South African. They have sold much of their interests in South Africa; amongst others a thriving Chrome and Ferrochrome business and diamond interests, simultaneously allowing licences and options in other minerals and oil to lapse. The BHP Billiton exit strategy is simple, milk ESKOM for what they can, sweat their coal and manganese assets and avoid green fields projects investment.

The BHP Billiton model is closely followed by others. Rio Tinto, chaired by a South African, has not made a significant investment in South Africa for ages, preferring to invest in Zimbabwean Diamonds and Namibian Uranium whilst flogging a large part of their stake in Palabora Mining Company, a dying and marginal asset, to BEE entities. Barrick, the world’s biggest gold miner only maintains a token presence in South Africa whilst expanding their operations in Tanzania. Norilsk recently got rid of all the technical expertise housed in their Johannesburg office, deciding to maintain a small administrative staff to keep an eye on their joint-ventures with the likes of ARM, whose chairman Patrice Motsepe, is not against nationalization as long as he gets enough for his, not insubstantial, chunk of worthless Harmony shares. Meanwhile Xstrata, another miner being steered along by a South African, having dipped their toes into Platinum mining with their Angloplats joint venture and a small investment in their own Elands Platinum Mine are not prepared to convert their 25% investment in major platinum player Lonmin into full ownership and are seemingly reluctant and circumspect with any new Ferro Alloy and coal investments, probably considering the risk as excessive.  

It is ironic that the mighty De Beers – on the bones of their backside because of some worthless South African assets and the loss of their marketing stranglehold – consider sending their explorers trudging, like Frank Zappa’s Nanook and the evil seal hunters, across the Canadian Tundra, to dig through the perma-frost and the deadly yellow snow (where the Huskies go) so that they can mine the rich diamond veins lying underneath freezing lakes, less risky than investing in South Africa. Anglo Ashanti would rather invest in the war torn DRC than in South African gold projects whilst Randgold Resources would, according to their great African Leader – Mark Bristow, rather face the logistical nightmare of building mines in godforsaken parts of Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal, DRC amongst other, than face the insecurity of super miners like Gona and his political backers Malema and others. As if all of that is not convincing; the mighty Goldfields, unable to make much from “the biggest known gold-resource” in the world – South Deep, are now celebrating the success of their exploration teams discovering new deposits in Peru and whilst the production from South Africa are shrinking with the dawn of every new day; their investments in places like Ghana, Peru and Australia – in some instances they have to build their own power generation plants – are showing excellent returns in the wake of a high gold price.

To think that study tours to Venezuela will bring answers is rather foolish and a thinly veiled reason for another overseas trip. Perhaps the wannabee miners like Gona, Malema, Kulubuse Zuma and Kodwa Mandela, their friend Hulley and others like them should visit 3762countries that are struggling to rise from the ashes of socialist agendas and learn how to stay out of the quagmire. Perhaps Jacob Zuma should’ve dragged his friends from COSATU of to India to see how they the Indians work and find out why they can be competitive.

In Australia, when Kevin Rudd announced his populist “mining super tax”, his ratings initially shot up. However, the Aussies being relatively educated, and having assessed the effect of this tax on the goose laying the golden eggs, are now giving Rudd the thumbs down and his ratings are dropping. In South Africa, if a politician conjures a populist hair-brained scheme, any opposition to that plan will result in thinly disguised threats and punitive measures by deployed cadres, making life impossible for such opponent whilst hardening the resolve of government to destroy. Makes one wonder; what did those convicts that built Australia have?


The Great South African Mining Disaster

February 24, 2010

Nic Holland, upon taking over at the helm at Goldfields, vowed to close down working places considered a safety risk. Being a man of his word and having the integrity of an old-style accountant he carefully assessed the risks and duly started shutting down workings considered to risky. Having not done the “Mining Math” properly in the first place, he found, perhaps too late, that he will eventually have risk free operations. That was however not the only reality that dawned upon him – he also found no risk means no gold and after all, that is what Goldfields is all about – mining gold. With every risky place they stopped the gold output fell inexplicably; A difficult concept? Not really. Most call it common sense. As the saying goes; you do not make scrambled eggs without breaking a few eggs.

Nic Holland was not the only one trying to get rid of the “risky” operations. Anglo American’s Cynthia Carroll went a bit further and sold all of AngloGold Ashanti, getting rid of a whole whack of dangerous operations in one foul swoop. She went further and then publicly claimed a massive reduction in mining related fatalities at Anglo – a novel variation on the concept of selling your problems to the uninformed – in this case selling your deaths, sweetened with a splattering of gold to the unsuspecting foreigners. Fortunately in this case the foreigners got a bit more than a smattering of gold with the Africa operations that came with the South African assets. My reckoning; if Julius and friends succeed in nationalising the South African mines with compensation the foreigners can get rid of the South African poison pill – the deal of a lifetime.

As this drama continues to unfold, South African mining production continues to fall sharply. At a time when the gold price is at its most favourable in decades, South African gold production has reached an all time low of 232 tonnes, less than half the 490 tonnes produced in 1985 and falling ever faster. Ironically, as the gold production from South Africa was dragged down by labour issues, government regulation and risk aversion, output from the rest of the world, particularly the rest of Africa and China rose sharply.

Looking at the latest round of reporting by mining companies, it is particularly noticeable how many companies reported a great number of production days lost due to safety issues a new inclusion in their reports. As in the case of Goldfields, the South African mining industry will come to the realisation that the easiest way to ensure no risk is to shut the mines down.

With the loss of 15 000 jobs in the mining industry in 2009, a year when resource prices were showing a recovery  from the global recession with the gold price reaching an all time high, South African mineral production continued to fall.   

Having said that, it is particularly noticeable how the cause of accidents and the reasons for Section 54’s, Mine closure orders, are glibly attributed to the owners and management. When an incompetent and reckless miner, holding a certificate issued under the auspices of the relative government department, blows himself and his colleagues up by smoking in an area which he has tested as being laden with methane, management is blamed, the mine is closed down and the bad and twisted – by the Union and the Department of mineral Resources – publicity, loss in production and subsequent revenue loss accrues to shareholder.

No wonder Patrice Motsepe is so keen to give his mines to Julius Inc., compliments the South African taxpayer. He learned from Cynthia Carroll.


Little Lies

February 10, 2010

It is disconcerting the manner in which everybody, from the President, including ministers and Chief executives, twist and distort facts to suit their little agendas. Even worse, is the manner in which they proudly tell their convoluted truths, not in the slightest concerned that their reputations may be harmed should they be exposed?

The same people who claim they are adhering to all principles of good governance unleashes their half truths on a public, punch-drunk from being bombarded by nonsense espoused by the pillars of society.

I am not talking here about politicians from the governing party or even politicians in general. We have come to expect lies and deceit from our politicians. Truth be said, we are disappointed and feel robbed if they fail us in this regard. No. I’m speaking of Cynthia Carroll, upstanding leader of the once mighty Anglo American.

Desperately fighting for survival, the once hailed saviour of a faltering organisation – like the legendary Phoenix or using an example closer to home, Shabir Shaik – rose from the ashes and flattened delegates at the annual Mining Indaba, when she proudly announced a staggering safety performance at Anglo American.

According to Carroll, Anglo reduced the fatalities resulting from mine accidents from 44 in 2006 to 19 in 2009, an improvement of 42% over three years.  A remarkable achievement, unless you dig a bit deeper to find that Anglogold Ashanti, responsible for 32 of the fatalities in 2006 are excluded from the 2009 figures by reason of Anglo American’s disposal of that asset in 2007.

Looking at current Anglo operations it should be noted that fatalities at Anglo Platinum remained flat at 17 – 18 fatalities through 2006 to 2008. In 2009, with fewer people employed and more of their production and revenue coming from joint ventures, resulting in lower risk, fatalities decreased to 13. A reasonable performance? Yes. Spectacular? Not in my book.

What it does teach us is to tell a convoluted story, peppered with twisted facts omissions and half truths. You may get away with it for a while, fooling even the so-called experts and informed. However at some stage you will be caught out and people will snigger when you make your profound statements; some may even tell you to your face that they feel insulted by you underestimation of their intelligence.


The Death of a Minister

February 8, 2010

With eminent miners, Nic Holland’s and Nicky Oppenheimer’s, expression of faith and confidence in mining life in South Africa, according to Susan Shabangu, potential investors and mine owners alike can be forgiven for thinking everything was hunky-dory.

Their belief, that the nonsensical and poorly written discussion document released by the ANC Kindergarten is nothing but a hallucination and a bag of typical Malema hot air, is totally understandable considering the utterances by Jeremy Cronin and Gwede Mantashe on Nationalisation. But then, what do Holland and Oppenheimer know, spending the bulk of their time plotting their divestment from South Africa they are bound to be slightly out of touch with reality.  

Shabangu, in the mean time, having assured investors that mines will only be nationalised over her dead body, must have seen her life flashing by for a moment on Sunday when Chairperson and stop-gap Ex-Deputy President, Baleke Mbete, informed ANC heavyweights that ministers and cadres should familiarise themselves with the content of the much-vaunted aforementioned position paper. As for the hapless white-Messiah, Jeremy Cronin, one can only wonder what the future holds.

It seems Shabangu’s past contributions – notably the shoot-to-kill policy, subsequently hi-jacked in spectacular style by Fikile Mbalula; mentor and friend of Malema – counts for nothing as she fights for her life, so to speak. Jeremy Cronin, unlike Kortbroek van Schalkwyk and Barbara Hogan, despite his many years of experience in struggle politics, still do not know his place in the pecking order.

From Mbete’s stance it is patently clear that the views of Malema prevails with the ANC heavies and the Long Schlong himself, who briefly popped out of bed to put to make it clear which hole he is drilling in a manner of speaking. It seems Malema, the Long Schlong’s love child and favourite son – according to that much respected genealogist, Mr. Ben Trovato, wields a bit more power with the elders than the inconsistent Shabangu and the dapper but naïve Cronin.

My advise to Oppenheimer and Holland; “Hedge your bets and, like Cynthia Carroll and so many others, go to Luthuli House and join the queue at Malema’s door. Perhaps the rotund little boy can find it in his heart to arrange a deal with the new movers and shakers in the Mining Industry, Mandela and Zuma Inc.