29/06/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 29/06/2017 06:53 SAST

The New Mining Charter Is Positive In At Least One Small Way -- It Allegedly Doesn't Have Chamber Of Mines Input

Most people would agree that the aim of public policy is to further the interests of the masses and not the small cabal of profiteers at the helm of it.

Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
South Africa's Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane looks on during the reopening of the Highveld Steel heavy structural mill at Emalahleni in Mpumalanga province, South Africa June 6, 2017.

On Thursday, 15th of June, Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane gazetted the new charter for the mining sector, and if the media reaction to it is all you have to go by, you'd be forgiven for thinking he just expropriated the mines (not that it would be such a bad thing if he actually did that) from the private interests that currently hold them. The most controversial part of the Charter is its demand that mining companies raise the level of black ownership from 26 percent to 30 percent, to be achieved within one year.

Two criticisms of the Charter have taken shape over the past two weeks. First, the Chamber of Mines has argued that the Charter is "illegal, unconstitutional and stupefying", and has therefore filed papers in the North Gauteng High Court seeking an urgent interdict against it. According to Tebello Chabana, a senior executive of public affairs and transformation at the Chamber of Mines, the Charter goes against provisions of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA). In his view, "it amounts to law-making without going through the legislative process".

The words of the Chamber of Mines, however, ought to be viewed in its proper context. The Chamber of Mines, from its beginning in 1889, has been nothing more than an industry lobby group. According to their website, their key objective is to facilitate interaction between mining companies in the examination of "policy issues and other matters of mutual concern to crystallise and define desirable industry standpoints". Its sole aim, in other words, is to obtain for its clients (about 90 percent of the mining industry) the conditions it judges most favourable to their bottom-line. It does not have, nor has it ever exhibited, an interest in anything other than this.

That the media quotes the Chamber of Mines as an authority on what is in the interest of the majority of South Africans, this shows either the depth of their imperceptiveness, or the height of their complicity in seeking to grow the profits of the mining magnets. We ought to read Chabana's words with the awareness that this is a man doing a job he is paid to do, and not some altruistic church brother. When did we start taking the fox's advice about what would be advantageous for the hen-house? About whether or not the new Charter is actually unconstitutional, that is a matter for the courts.

The second criticism that has been levelled against the new mining Charter is related to the first, namely, that there was no consultation with the industry in its drafting. Just to be clear, if the Chamber of Mines catered to the interests of every stake-holding in the industry, including workers, as they sometimes claim, this complaint wouldn't exist, at least not in its current form. According to the Mail and Guardian, the "National Union of Mineworkers says it had six thorough consultation sessions with the department since April 2016". It is clear their only preoccupation is the profits of their corporate funders. Not the economy, except as it benefits them. Not the welfare of workers, and definitely not the socio-economic transformation of South Africa.

Now, while the arguments I have offered in response to the first criticism also apply here, there are three additional reasons why Minister Zwane was right in not consulting with the fox:

1. If the argument for seeking the input of industry lobby groups in the drafting of the Charter is that they possess unique insights to the ins and outs of the sector, then we really do not need the Chamber for that. Academics who have spent decades studying the mining sector can supply that input. If, however, the argument is that the input of those who have nothing more than their profits to worry about are as important as those of other stakeholders who, at least in principle, care about South Africa's socio-economic transformation, then absurdity beckons. Most people would probably agree that the aim of public policy is to further the interests of the masses of the people and not the small cabal of profiteers at the helm of it.

2. The Chamber of Mines has already shown that it is uninterested in transforming that sector. In former Mining Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi's the 10-year review of the first Mining Charter, which was released after a prolonged court battle with the Chamber of Mines, it was shown that the industry had fallen woefully short of a range of transformation and empowerment targets. When the Chamber contested the ministry's review and produced their own review, based on their own methodology, the industry was still shown "to be doing badly, but not as badly as the government or nonprofits such as the Benchmark Foundation had suggested". So the Chamber of Mines has zero credibility on this subject.

3. If we are serious about preventing state capture, we have to speak up against industries and their lobbies seeking to be treated like sacred cows in the crafting of policy. The Media cannot, on the one hand, rave about the Guptas, in some instances with no more than circumstantial and speculative evidence, while on the other hand faulting the minister for not giving an ear to other lobbies.

In my title, I say the new Mining Charter "allegedly" does not contain Chamber of Mines input. The reason for this stance is couched in the fact that the Department of Mineral Resources first published a draft version of this final Charter on the 15th of April, 2016. With the ANC as corrupt as it is, it would be a stunning achievement, on the part of Minister Zwane and his colleagues at the Ministry of Mineral Resources, if the Chamber of Mines did not find ways to influence this Charter in the intervening period.