In a country blessed with an abundance of mineral resources, South Africa's mining industry has long stood as a cornerstone of its economy. The sector's direct contribution to the GDP has been on a steady ascent, reaching a remarkable R494 billion in 2022. However, amidst this glittering success story, the smaller players, the junior mining companies, have often struggled to find their voice and footing.
It was an honour to witness the launch of the Junior Mining Council, short, JMC, at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on Tuesday, 12 September 2023. This initiative promises to be a voice for the previously marginalized junior mining sector and will elevate them into the mainstream economy.
Challenges confronting junior mining companies have been in part, documented within and outside the sector. The JMC launch this week signaled that the time for complaining was over. We need action in response to the challenges we face.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." It takes courage and determination to take action and effect positive change in the face of incredible adversity in this sector.
The JMC will have a focused approach tailored to the unique needs of its diverse members, ranging from artisanal miners to small mining companies, natural brickfields, stone quarries, mine suppliers, explorers, miners, contractors, and more. These companies are often underrepresented or not represented at all, leaving them without an appropriate voice or support for sustainable growth.
The Siyakhula Sonke Empowerment Corporation (SSC) should be commended for taking the lead in championing the establishment of the JMC. They have proved to be determined to make this dream, this vision for a sustainable sunrise in the junior mining sector, a reality
It's an old African truism that if you want to go fast, you can go alone, but if you want to go far, you go with others. Collaboration with JSE, the Black Business Council, the Professional Progressive Forum, and many other progressive bodies can only add impetus to this movement.
Junior miners, defined as emerging miners with a market capitalization of up to R500 million, collectively generated R88 billion in revenue in 2022. Yet, despite their significant contributions, they face a multitude of challenges, including limited access to finance, logistical hurdles, legal complexities, a poorly regulated environment, and the absence of a united voice. The JMC aims to bridge these gaps and create a more favorable environment for junior miners to thrive.
The primary goal of the JMC is to address junior issues in a manner that allows these companies to mature and grow, benefiting both the industry and South Africa as a whole. This vision extends beyond mere words; it is about uniting all emerging and junior miners, suppliers, contractors, explorers, and quarries behind a common purpose and vision for the sector. It's about developing and implementing actionable programs that position the junior mining sector at the forefront of economic growth and participation in South Africa.
The JMC will operate as a voluntary membership entity that caters to the unique needs of the junior mining sector. Historically, this sector has been underrepresented, lacking both a voice and the necessary support. However, the JMC is here to change that.
One crucial aspect that the sector has neglected is governance and intergovernmental relations. Communication and lobbying have also been overlooked, leading to instability among labour parties. The JMC will put an end to this by building mutual understanding and a shared vision among all stakeholders, including media, communities, organized labor, and government.
Skills development is another vital area of focus. While South African mining companies invest in employee skills, the JMC can centralize and organize these efforts, creating a platform to enhance skills and competencies relevant to the junior mining sector.
The environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns of the junior mining sector will also receive guidance from the JMC. Worker safety is a paramount concern, particularly for smaller operations. Moreover, the JMC can play a pivotal role in addressing artisanal and illegal mining, a problem that has plagued the sector with poor safety records.
In an era of geopolitical uncertainty, risks often bring opportunities. For instance, the surge in coal exports since the Russia-Ukraine conflict has significantly benefited junior mining companies. The JMC can help these companies navigate such geopolitical challenges and seize growth opportunities.
As the JMC takes its first steps, it has already garnered substantial support from the industry. Companies are lining up to become members, eager to be part of this transformative movement.
The JMC is poised to be a trailblazing for South Africa's junior mining sector. It represents a long-overdue opportunity to address challenges, promote growth, and elevate the voices of those who have long been in the shadows. With its clear vision and comprehensive approach, the JMC is set to become a beacon of support and representation, not only for South Africa but also on the global stage.
Written by Sivuyile Mbambato.
Mbambato is a founder of Ngokwethu Communication and writes in his capacity.