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Mining and nationalisation: Not much clarity... and a John Scott bonus

18th February 2011

By: Denis Worrall

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The last Insight was devoted to the South African mining industry in view of the Mining Indaba which was to take place between 7 and 11 February. Insight raised a number of issues regarding the industry and specifically the negative mood which we detect both in the industry itself and in potential investors – both national and international. We expressed the hope that the Indaba, which is the biggest gathering of miners in Africa, would give Minister of Minerals and Energy Susan Shabangu a chance of sorting matters out and settling the nationalisation debate.

This Indaba was the biggest that has ever been held, with close to 6,000 delegates, reflecting keen interest in African mining. And the overwhelming mood was positive and upbeat, with mining ministries of West African countries – among them Gabon, Ghana, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo – all marketing their prospects and doing so with evident satisfaction. South Africa, for reasons mentioned in the last Insight but mainly because of uncertainty regarding government policy and nationalisation, was the loser – notwithstanding that Minister Shabangu took a strong line. “Nationalisation is not an option”, she said. By implication the investigations which the government was undertaking were intended to come to this conclusion. “My position is that there are challenges and nationalisation is not the option for South Africa” the Minister said. Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll powerfully added to this view: “The false prophets who argue for nationalisation are advocating the road to ruin, a path we must not follow.”

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Unfortunately, the ANC Youth League responded by demanding that the party exercise “maximum discipline” as far as Minister Shabangu was concerned, who they said had inspired Cynthia Carroll’s “ranting”. Surprisingly, as he is normally a sensible fellow, the ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe climbed into both the minister and Cynthia Carroll for having launched what he described as a “pre-emptive strike. They are putting the cart before the horse - the party will continue its investigation into nationalisation.”

If you were a foreigner willing to make a sizable long-term investment in a mining project what would you do? – especially if you were offered something in Ghana and South Africa. According to an international banker at the Indaba this is a no-brainer.

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Nationalisation aside, in other ways, Shabangu and her Department officials indicated that they were working on factors which they considered inhibited investment. For example, simplifying the regulatory environment and improving the availability of energy. They also indicated that they’d be taking a tougher stand on the granting of mining licences, and so reducing the risk of corruption. Minister Shabangu plans to visit the US later this year to explain to mining shareholders what the government’s policy and strategies are.

“Democracy in South Africa: A step backwards”
That is the heading of a news report in the latest Economist (February 12) of a speech which President Zuma recently made. South Africa faces local government elections, and in wooing rural voters in the Eastern Cape, he declared among other things: “When you vote for the ANC (African National Congress) you are choosing to go to heaven. When you don’t vote for the ANC, you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork ..... who cooks people.” He drove his message home with: “When you are carrying an ANC membership card, you are blessed. When you get up there, there are different cards used, but when you have an ANC card, you’ll be let through to go to heaven”, he further elaborated.

South Africans being overwhelmingly Christian, his widely-publicised remarks set off a mixture of emotions – from anger, disbelief and shock to how ridiculous our politicians are. But perhaps, as they say, the most effective political criticism is satire, and this is how my old friend John Scott, a regular columnist for The Cape Times,responded:

“If you can't promise people heaven on earth, you can at least offer them heaven in heaven.

That is why I don't blame President Jacob Zuma for resorting to the hereafter as a lure to vote ANC in the coming local government elections. As he knows from the Bible, there are many mansions there awaiting all those whom his government is unable to house here; there is no need for anyone to work once they get there (unless they have musical ability), and there is no mention in the scriptures of open sewers or giant potholes.

Nor is there any bribery, corruption or redeployment of incompetent pals into jobs for which they are unfit.

Government members to whom this applies have his assurance they won't go to the other place so long as they produce their ANC membership cards. St Peter, who is apparently also a paid-up member, will let them through, even very rich BEE beneficiaries who, like camels, couldn't fit through the eye of a needle.

In contrast, the DA and other opposition parties will be sent to "that man who carries a fork" and be "cooked". Eternal torment in the fires of hell should be enough to teach them that exercising their democratic right to vote for whom they like is a mortal sin.

It is clear from this the president believes that if you vote ANC your reward will be in heaven, even if your life under the ANC government is hell on earth. It is something all ANC voters can look forward to.

The president, who is also a part-time pastor and is therefore an expert in these matters, maintains that when Jesus fetches ANC members to the exclusion of other parties, they will find that the heavenly beings already there are "wearing black, green and gold -- the holy ones belong to the ANC".

It was probably too late for the authors of the Bible to mention these were the new celestial in-colours. Nearly all the angelic appearances reported until now, have been in shining white -- not one mention of black. It just goes to show there could still be a residue of prejudice in paradise against that colour. Probably generated by non-ANC members who slipped in unnoticed.

One or two of the president's spokesmen have tried to water down his stirring message. For instance Jackson Mthembu says Zuma was speaking metaphorically. He says the president really meant ANC policy was so good that when people voted for it, they would feel as if they were already in heaven.

There is even a song that goes "I'm in heaven", though it doesn't mention the ANC.

And Zizi Kodwa says the president's remarks were "taken out of context and added a flair of sensation". Personally I don't think Zuma needs any flairs of sensation added. What he says is sensational enough and is all his very own work.

Rather than misinterpret their boss's statements, both Mthembu and Kodwa should explain that government misrule is really metaphoric and viewed out of context. That way it won't seem so unheavenly.”

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