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.

Anglo American – Demise or Sign of the Times?

June 22, 2009

Merger of equals? I doubt it. The biggest and hottest mining news, whilst not entirely unexpected, remains a shock too many because it signals an end to an era and the death of a South African institution that cannot be taken lightly, it is bit like imagining a world without IBM, Ford or GE. The Xstrata initiative has been rumoured for a while and the announcement of a proposed merger of equals ring hollow in light of strong rumours that the Xstrata initiative was partly at the behest of some influential and disillusioned Anglo shareholders. The discussions with shareholders are particularly interesting and are an indication of the disillusionment with Anglo management in general and Cynthia Carrol in particular.

 The deal, if successful will see probably see the name Anglo American assigned to history, much like some of their BEE offspring. Something that would have been considered inconceivable ten years ago is now imminent. In a very short time a great and proud entity were transformed into a weak and vulnerable target for predators. A mere eight years ago Anglo was the top miner in the Forbes list of top 2000 companies, at position 113 with BHP Billiton coming in second at 127 and Xstrata a lowly 764. In the 2008 list, Anglo had dropped to 266 with BHP Billiton, the number one miner, at position 183 and Xstrata at 272. Ranking miners the mining companies, Anglo has gone from number 1 in 2000 to number 5 whilst Xstrata climbed from position 16 to position 6. A truly remarkable slide in fortunes.

The embarrassing disintegration of Anglo American despite its high quality assets can be laid squarely at the door of management and an all out governmental assault on business and the mining industry in particular.

Tony Trahar during his tenure in 2005, made the fatal mistake of enraging the vindictive Thabo Mbeki with his “Anti-African” statement on South Africa’s perceived risk profile with investors. His justified criticism was however not openly supported by his peers, a common South African business leader’s disease, akin to the cowardice Trevor Manual recently referred to, and he was hanged out to dry. Anglo American’s management of BEE policy, partly prompted by their need for acceptance and perceived dependence on government goodwill, was less than successful and their focus on political issues resulted in them taking their eye of the ball, which in turn caused the company to lose direction.

At the end of 2007, with great fanfare, Trahar was replaced by Cynthia Carrol, who was to lead Anglo at astounding pace in a desperate dash to oblivion.  Her appointment as CEO was hailed by many. She was going to bring a new approach to South African mining, change our poor safety culture and turn Anglo into a mean effective super miner. She was, being American, hailed as far superior species to stereotype South African CEO’s and Chairmen, suitable for companies like BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and the unmentionable Swiss upstart with the funny name. In reality, Cynthia Carrol was soon found wanting. The relationship with the government did not show a perceptible improvement, on the contrary, her naivety and approaches were seen as weakness and resulted in further exploitation by officials, the politically connected and “The Entitled”, more money and assets were poured into bottomless BEE pits, executives left the organization and their replacements are rumoured to feel isolated. Public spats with the likes of Davidson and Trahar, in the hallowed halls of Anglo American, were akin to mutinous behaviour and the company clearly found itself on a precipice. The inability of Anglo Management to judge the climate in South Africa, and Africa for that matter, could not be ameliorated by there high quality mineral resources.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, Carrol will not do the honourable thing and fall on her sword. The reference to a “Merger of Equals” is nothing more than an attempt to allow her to maintain some semblance of respectability as a business leader. I do not see how the retention of Carrol will add value to a merged entity. The value in Anglo lies in their mineral assets and their people, value that Anglo executive management has been unable to unlock for a long time and the real value in the merger lies in the leadership and proven ability that Xstrata brings to the party. This was born out by the sharp rise of the Anglo share price on the announcement and the drop in the Xstrata share price. 

The role played by politicians in the demise of Anglo American must not be ignored. The manner in which the government, through mindless doctrine and misguided economic policy, has set out to destroy the mining industry under the guise of corrective action, will haunt us for a long time to come.

The message from the market is clear; get the deal over and done with, thus reducing  insecurity and uncertainty. Anglo shareholders want the deal, Xstrata shareholders do not like the “Merger of Equals” idea and who can blame them, since it may imply the animal that results from this union may have more than its fair share of Anglo genes and culture. To those who are worried and concerned, remember this, a year ago the mighty Anglo American, once referred to, as “The Evil Empire” would have been highly offended by references suggesting they were equal to the likes of Xstrata.


May 27, 2009

* According to Mike Cutifani, CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa experienced  an unexpected fatality stoppage, a brief strike by drillers, a slow resumption of operations after the Christmas break and some technical difficulties — nothing particularly surprising or to be worried about. South African operations will be affected by the usual swathe of public holidays over the Easter period

Maybe that is exactly the problem. Everything normal and nothing to be worried about. Why don’t you just shut it down? If the government and the workers do not care, why should management and the investor care?


* Cutifani also stated that no greenfields exploration is being undertaken in South Africa and the country’s mature gold mining industry continues its steady decline.

Mine killer, job destroyer. I wonder what the Vodafools think about this lot. Selling the “crown jewels” to foreigners. I do not think they need to worry too much. The South African operations will be given back to South Africans through some BEE deal that will leave everyone poorer. The Minister probably thinks it has something to do with Cynthia Carol’s goodwill.


* Nick Holland , CEO of Goldfields, stated recently that Kloof reduced fatalities by withdrawing from remnants

Another one? Is he telling us the strategy is to withdraw until nobody is left underground? Surely, he does not believe that, not in this land of opportunity. Imagine, No work, no workers and no risk. It sound like a pretty good growth strategy and it should make the government and unions happy


* According to Holland, the future of Goldfields’ SA operations relies heavily on South Deep and the adjacent Kloof reserves.

This is becoming hard to swallow. Maybe South Deep is one of those visionary dreams, high on promise and low on delivery. By the time they have figured how to turn the rich promises to account, pigs would have learned to fly. Mind you, with the Mvhela stake in Goldfields and with Tokyo’s self-confessed connections with the witchdoctor fraternity, nothing is impossible. A bit of mumbo-jumbo and hey, flying pigs everywhere


* Harmony CEO Graham Briggs said, “We have positioned the company in such a way that we are able to deliver on our promise of paying a dividend in future. Our focus now remains on achieving our overall targets and delivering consistent returns,” he said. This after the March share placement, which followed on from an earlier share placement in December through which Harmony raised R979m.

You know a miner is in trouble when he says as little as possible about his operational performance whilst waxing lyrically about his ability to mine the stock market and then in a spell bounding display dazzles his audience with elaborate plans for the future.


*  It is termed a civil war but the squabble for control of Diamond Mining Giant, Rockwell Diamonds is nothing more than a childish scuffle between two parties with different opinions on how best to mine the Securities Exchange, with no concern for the small investor

At the end of the day, Rockwell Diamonds, under present market conditions, are probably worth as much as the glowing PowerPoint presentations of its magnificent prospects. The mammoth battle between the famous, some claiming to be famous, some inconsequential and the odd reject claiming fame, is rather absurd. As the combatants (Bristow, Bristow and Copeland  on one side and  Von Weilligh, Reynolds and Van Wyk on the other side) square up for the fight that will destroy what little value remains in the company, spare a thought for the employees and the small investor.


* Senzeni Zokwana, President of NUM said; “This marginalisation of women in general and black women in particular not only impacted negatively on the role of women in economic activity but further entrenched their exclusion in the different sectors of our economic landscape .This marginalisation inculcated cultural and gender stereotypes which victimised women particularly in the mining sector .In this regard entrenching the hegemony of male chauvinism in all layers of employment in the mining industry.

Now, many years on, and having had woman minister after woman minister of mines, one ending up as deputy president, and a woman CEO at the helm of Anglo, the mining industry are still miles of the target. Maybe the appointment of a new minister of mines and a minister to look after woman rights will bring fresh ideas. Maybe the Gauteng Premier inadvertently pointed the way forward when she pleaded for open minds on the decriminalisation of prostitution.

This triggered my imaginative mind and I thought of the great Senzeni Zokwana’s wise words; “black men believed also that women must remain in the rural areas or in townships while they dived and descended further into the curse of production in the dark bowels of the earth which have never been hospitable even to the male folk”. Now, if that is a not plea by leaders to make it attractive for men to have woman “on the job” with them, so to speak, whilst their wives are tending the fields, I do not know what it is. If sex is allowed, decriminalised underground in a manner of speaking, the industry will fill their quotas, we’ll clean up the streets by literally driving prostitution underground. It could even solve the skills problem. We’ll have a generation of people, conceived underground, who will unlike normal youngsters, take to mine work like ducks to water. The historic and traditional aversion to work, especially underground work, will cease to be a problem.

Death of an Industry

May 18, 2009

The bankruptcy of Pamodzi Gold is symptomatic of the dying South African Mining industry. With diamond mining reduced to the level of 19th century prospecting, scratching for a livelihood and the mighty De Beers, once prosperous and in total control of their destiny and market, now technically insolvent. The gold mining industry in South Africa with technical problems and challenges, are unable to find investors to start new mines. The platinum mining industry is struggling to maintain profitability in a realistic market environment. It is littered inefficiency, with BEE deals and unsustainable “mining ventures”.

Using the Pamodzi example and a bit of forward thinking I see Sentula finding a partner who will invest money to buy the “assets” at a rock bottom price. They will inject some working capital come up with a plan promising a pot of gold and raise more cash from the market. Mining will recommence the company will make losses but promises of future profitability will suck in the gamblers and the price of the stock will increase. A few people, mainly  management, investors and the astute dealers will make money, probably lots of it, however many people; greedy people, poor people and stupid people will loose money. Some will loose a little and say nothing to save them the embarrassment; others who lost a lot will kill themselves. When the mines reopen the unions and workers will rejoice. The Minister will laud the businessmen for showing confidence in the South African economy and the BEE partners will toast everyone for their contribution in making the rebirth of the mines possible. Being increase time the workers will embark on a strike for more pay. During the subsequent strike, management, under pressure, to keep the marginal operations going and to protect the revived baby from harm, brings in contractors to minimise disruption to production. This results in anarchy and the killing of a contract labourer by the strikers, causing the mine to grind to a halt. After severe financial losses, operations restart but a comrade dies in an accident and the workers down tools in sympathy. By now, the projected margins are paper thin or non-existent. A week later inspectors of the DME arrive for a “Blitz”. They find a worker not wearing his Rescue Set and issue a section 54 order. As a result, operations are generally suspended for 24 hours or more. The Mine Manager, a caring man, because of the stress and the threatened permanent closure of the mine dies of a heart attack. The mine in this period produced gold. Unfortunately, it was produced at a loss and no value was generated. The people who made this miserable tale possible will walk away. They will blame the markets but nobody will bother to deal with the real issues. During this time, five people died in road accidents and thirty people were murdered in the areas in which the mines operate.

Who would invest in such a venture? It is better to invest your money in a decrepit sewage plant gushing raw sewage into the Vaal River. At least the technology to clean human excrement is readily available and no one will call you a killer of people.

It is almost inconceivable. We are witnessing the demise of the South African gold mining industry. One of the two pillars that supported the South African economy for more than a century are crumbling right before our eyes giving rise to the obvious question; Why now; with the gold price at its highest level in 20 years? How do we allow an industry to die when we still have some of the biggest gold resources known to man? How do we stand by and see thousands of people losing their jobs in a country with the third highest unemployment rate in the world?

The reason for this is simple. Economics and the market. The cost of mining gold and the resulting lack of profitability of the business do not justify its existence. We all know that, or do we? Many do not realise the simple principle that the lack of profitability and resultant lack of competitiveness can, and will kill an industry. Conversely, and here is the dangerous part, many “leaders” who are aware of the ills of the industry, do not speak about it because it is not politically expedient to do so. I read an article in the M&G recently about a mineworker who religiously monitors the platinum price on TV. To him the price determines his continued employment or otherwise. The concept of profitability does not enter in the equation.. The sad reality is that he is only one of 400 000 mineworkers who hold this belief, people who believe that the mine owners set the price of the commodity they produce. Four hundred thousand mine employees do not know that cost has a telling effect on operations and they do not understand the factors impacting on cost. They only understand the “Market of Economic Myths” espoused by their leaders.

The terminal illness afflicting the gold mining industry stems from the nature and depth of our deposits. As a result, gold mining in South Africa, is technically complex. That should not be a problem. It took us one hundred years to get from reef outcrop to 4000 metres, a magical achievement. In the last 20 years, despite the increasing rate of technological development, we have gone nowhere because there was no money to develop technology Developing technology requires skills, expertise, investment and passion. The South African mining industry was built by hard work; the blood, sweat and tears of true pioneers. It was built by people prepared to take big risks in order to reap a well earned reward. Most of these attributes are now nowhere to be found. Skills fled, because of falling productivity, margins are paper-thin. The prevailing mood around the industry are characterised by a reluctance to face the truth, avoidance of tough decisions and a false sense that somehow a miracle will happen and all will be well. Today the culture in South Africa has changed. We must avoid risk, keep hard work to a minimum and reserve competition  for the sports field. Rewarding risk is politically incorrect, everybody have rights, privileges cannot be earned and should you by chance have skills or knowledge that, in the opinion of some, has been acquired unfairly, all efforts must be focused on avoidance of the effective use of that skills and knowledge. We live in an environment where people demand to eat eggs without breaking the shells. As a result of this madness, we have not seen any major gold mining project since the early nineties. Gold mining companies in South Africa are marginal and struggling whilst global companies operating in competitive market environments contain costs, maintain margins and deliver good profits. Barrick, Newmont and Randgold Resources are doing well whilst past have fallen onto bad times. The former king of gold, Anglo American, sold its gold division, Goldfields are struggling and the South African number three, and Harmony is a marginal miner. For the rest…nothing. South African gold production in 2007 was one third of levels in 1978, but more significant is that the period 1993 to 2007 accounted for two thirds of the wipe, certainly a rapid shutdown. Before we can even think of fixing the industry, we must face and understand the brutal truths facing us:

  • Mining has always been a risky and hazardous, so is motorcar racing and policing in South Africa. I am yet to see the SAPS strike every time a police officer is shot in the line of duty and many racing car drivers pay good money to put their lives at risk for the spectators. I can safely say it is more risky to just live in South Africa than working in a deep gold mine if you consider that the life expectancy of South Africans have dropped from 65 to 51 in the last fourteen years. For gold mining and mining to survive in South Africa, people are going to die.
  • Labour cost globally, and in competitive countries unlike in South Africa, are driven by supply and demand. Here, with abundant labour at our disposal we restrict employment through counter-competitive measures such as legally entrenched labour practices and unrealistic minimum wage levels. Artificially elevated wage levels with high unemployment are preferred to a market related living wage with low unemployment. People are going to have work harder for less.
  • Institutionalised laziness promoted by trade unions and political leaders in the name of ideology. The deliberate destruction of employment opportunities by declaring certain types of work as meaningless and undesirable, resulting in people resorting to crime rather than work. The power of the Unions will have to be broken.
  • A development fund can be created to develop the future and to allow our children to benefit from our resources, a reserve similar to the Norwegian Oil Model.

The Unions use safety to score points with members. They prey on the ignorant by portraying themselves as fighters for the poor and oppressed. In the process they keep their membership high and prevent the entrance of competitive alternatives

The CEO of Goldfields stated recently that Kloof reduced fatalities by withdrawing from remnants. Is he telling us the strategy is to withdraw until nobody is left underground? No work, no workers and no risk. It sound like a pretty good growth strategy and it should make the government and unions happy. Nic Holland, the hero killing all those meaningless jobs. Whilst researching and writing this, Anglo Ashanti results was published and CEO Mark Cutifani, in a very blasé manner of handedly fashion, painted a bleak picture for the future of Anglo Ashanti’s South African operations.

To return the gold mining industry to a growing industry we need commitment to profitability. Profitability will encourage investment in green fields projects and R&D. However, no amount of money will prevent the loss of life in the quest to conquer depth and nature. Maybe we need to be reminded of the number of people who died during the construction of the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam and the conquest of space through space travel. Today we want to forfeit less whilst earning more than our predecessors who died to get us to 4000 metres underground.