Business the Zuma Way

February 28, 2011

COSATU and NUM are upset about Zuma hijacking the South African Mining industry but the truth is that there is not a damn thing they can do about it. The DMR works for Zuma and the Guptas and consequently the new rulers, unlike the Rand Barons who only had economic power, also have the political power and the right to kill.

Conducting negotiations over mineral rights is not anymore conducted in boardrooms between the prospective partners. Holders of Mineral Rights, wanting to discuss commercial terms must be prepared to do it in dusty township stadiums with the Guptas, a Zuma family member (Duduzane), Lazarus Zim accompanied by heavily armed police, bodyguards and a senior official of the Department of Mineral Resources.  The heat the holder of such a Mineral Right feels during such negotiations has very little to do with the ferocity of the sun…the heat they feel will be present even on a cold and cloudy day.

The DMR do not take steps when Zuma mines pollute our water resources. Aurora, a mine belonging to a Zuma and a Mandela, has been pumping poisonous acid water into our water resources for over a year with the knowledge of the department and they will continue to do so but in future it will be paid for by the citizen.

Employees are shot and killed at Aurora mines and the DMR turns a blind eye. A woman was killed in a mine accident in December 2009, something that will cause a 48 hour or longer stoppage on any other mine with permission to continue normally only given after an in loco inspection. The mine in question was given permission to continue operations without as much as an in loco inspection by an Inspector of Mines.

Employees of Aurora cannot be legally employed by other mines since they do not have medical exit certificates from their previous employer, Aurora, a legal requirement for reemployment. The DMR tells prospective employers to employ these people with a note on their medical files (circumventing the law) yet the DMR won’t issue this instruction/permission in writing. Should the decision of an employer to employ a person based on this flimsy exemption backfires on the prospective employer,  the DMR will wash its hands and the errant employer will become liable under the law for helping the Zuma rejects.

The DMR are openly promoting the interests of Zuma and his Gupta partners, presenting them, Indians arriving in SA in the 1993, as suitable BEE entities certain to smooth the path to the acquisition of prospecting permits and Mining rights. Government sponsored fronting, or perhaps a Zuma fronting for the Guptas? Ironically Shabangu is the minister who, less than a year ago, took white mine bosses to task accusing them of fronting.

The bias of the DMR has been clearly illustrated in the Sishen affair, where not only Anglo American was short shifted, but also a BEE company connected to Baleke Mbete and Tokyo Sexwale.

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The Zuma economic nightmare

February 21, 2011

I have often written, going back a few years, that major global resource companies – scared of the usual suspects, the ANC created regulatory environment, labour blackmail, rhetoric, the total absence of security of tenure, blatant theft of mineral rights and the consequent unacceptably low margins and returns and general insecurity – slowly divesting from South Africa. With few major long term projects able to deliver suitable and sustainable returns to justify the risks to these extremely long term investments it would be rather stupid to expect investments and sooner or later South Africa will, for the sake of jobs and development, will have to beg these people to return un terms worse than ever before, conversely they can invite a different entity, China or India, who will most certainly not invest on terms more attractive than that acceptable to current investors.  

For my views I was often ridiculed and laughed at but these days, more and more “reputable” and “valued” analysts and commentators advocate the same views in conferences and publications that I have espoused for a while now. Despite this there are still many who refuse to believe.

It is interesting to note that BHP Billiton, the second biggest company by market capitalisation in the world, lagging behind only Exxon Mobile, are sitting on a pile of cash they do not know what to do with. The South African CEO of BHP Billiton, Marius Klopper, a “boertjie” not intimidated by the “Kill the Boer” song, announced that this gigantic company who dictates terms even to the likes of the mighty China, will embark on a five year, USD 80 billion plan, to expand the resource behemoth. To put this into perspective; $ 80 billion are more than the market capitalisation of Anglo American, the fourth biggest resource company in the world. The sad but not unexpected part of the story is that not a penny of the $80 billion, are destined for South Africa where the ANC government promised 140 000 new jobs in the mining sector (an equivalent of ten mines a year at a cost of $ 1 billion each) over the next eight years.

Unfortunately BHP Billiton is not the only resource company taking a dim view on investments in South Africa. World no 2, Rio Tinto, and numberone gold miner, Barrick are avoiding the country like the plague. And whereas Goldfields previously stated that they were reviewing their exposure to their South African assets, their CEO, Nick Holland has now made it very clear that Goldfields will focus on stabilising (accountant speak for sweating the assets or running the asset into the grouns) their gold output from South Africa by milking their main asset, South Deep, a mechanised operation which will not absorb the jobs lost as a result of winding down their other operations, Kloof, Driefontein and Beatrix. Holland also announced that the envisaged Uranium mine, based on the retreatment of uranium bearing gold mine tailings, will not go ahead. Instead Goldfields, having slipped from being the world’s second or third biggest gold producer less than two decades ago, to number six or seven currently, will develop prospects in Mali, Peru, Philippines and of all places, Finland. Astonishingly Goldfields have found it is cheaper to mine gold in a very developed and expensive, over exploited, Scandinavian country than in South Africa with its vast amounts of known resources.

The strategy of Goldfields to stabilise sweat their existing assets to the maximum extends further. It is an open secret for those with the necessary insight that Anglo American is following a similar strategy. They have in past years, flogged their most valuable assets, locked up in Anglo Platinum, to partners in joint ventures and, in doing so, substantially reduced their risk and exposure to the pernickety politicians belonging to the broad church. In their established operations they have minimised their capital expenditure to the barest minimum. They, Anglo, avoided the capital expenditure that would’ve been required to establish the Stylsdrift Mine and when they could no longer avoid or delay spending and in so doing they reduced their risk by passing the property on to Royal Bafokeng Holdings. The existing operations of Anglo Platinum requires a major Vertical Shaft system in their Rustenburg operations – virtually a new mine at a cost upwards of a billion dollars US – to maintain output. Anglo Platinum instead deferred this capital expenditure, choosing to access the cheaper ore requiring very little capital outlay at their opencast mine near Potgieterust; this in a market that is currently undersupplied; a clear indication that any growth plans requiring large fixed investment will be avoided or deferred until such time as sufficient security returns and risk is reduced to acceptable levels.

Despite this, the ANC continues to promise thousands jobs in mining with the disingenuous Ibrahim Patel telling the ill-informed and the great unwashed, that the last year saw the creation of 17000 jobs in the mining industry, perhaps Patel and his friends in the broad church are thinking of jobs along the lines of those at the infamous Aurora Mines of the Zuma – Mandela family where workers haven’t been paid for more than a year. Patel conveniently omitted to mention that jobs in mining shrunk from 500 000 in 2007, to 346 000 in 2008, 296 000 in 2009 and to 303 000 in 2010; a net loss of 200 000 in three years. “The global economic crisis”, many will point out to which the answer; “Wake up, resource prices and demand are back at pre-crisis levels and the resource producing countries, except South Africa naturally, are coining it. We are too busy destroying a good thing.”


Diamonds aren’t forever – not in SA

January 23, 2011

It was announced that DeBeers, the South African Company that dominated the global Diamond Market for yonks has decided to throw in the towel as far as South Africa is concerned and it was no surprise that they sold their second biggest and one of only two diamond mines remaining in South Africa.

The decision to sell Finsch Mine was an easy one. De Beers, years ago decided to get out of the country. Mining, because of labour (COSATU) and government (ANC) became too expensive and the margins to thin. The risks of tenure and other regulatory uncertainties curtailed exploration and the decision was made to sweat the assets and get out leading to the mass sell-off of mines. The Kimberley mines were the first to go with the BEE-company taking them over, KCM – loosely connected to the Zuma clan – recently suspended from the JSE. The Cullinan mine was taken over by Petra and are barely surviving – albeit at a much smaller scale with considerably fewer people than before – thanks to the find of a typically massive and “lucky” gem; luck that cannot continue for much longer.

Finch Mine does not have the luxury of huge and lucky gems. The mine depends on the mass production of cheap industrial diamonds and small low value gems. Petra no doubt will reduce the size of the mine and scavenge dumps and easily accessible ore of which there is little left. Going deeper will require huge investment, investment DeBeers baulked at for good reasons.

The sad thing is that in 2005/6 Finsch Diamond Mine became one of the most technologically advanced hard rock underground mines in the world; a true pioneer. The technology employed at Finsch was critical in ensuring the viability of sustainable continuing operations.

Because of the South African skills shortage it became increasingly difficult to support the advanced mining technology at Finsch mine and future investments in this technology became just too risky given the deviancy of the Department of Minerals. In the end the selling price of Finsch Mine of $200 million hardly equates to the cost of the Mine Automation Project.

Sadly many of the excellent engineers developed in this process have left South Africa. They work abroad for DeBeers and for the companies involved with DeBeers in the development of the technology.

With Finsch gone, Venetia Mine remains the last Bastion of the erstwhile DeBeers South African Empire, in South Africa – an empire destroyed by transformation. The mine will be retained by DeBeers until the easy resources are exhausted, the assets have been sweated properly upon which it will be flung aside to be used by unscrupulous BEE companies, like KCM, to fleece unsuspecting investors.

Resources are not inexhaustible and for that they must be recovered effectively and investments must be made in finding new resources. In South Africa this cannot be done because of inflated labour costs, ineffective training and education, a government threatening ownership, a ruling party prepared to steal mineral rights for the benefit of a select few in the top party echelons.


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.


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.