The government is ready to work with mining to build a South African industry that is "resurgent, resilient and able to function successfully to its full potential," Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu told delegates at the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba in Cape Town on Tuesday.
More than 7 500 delegates, representing 1 800 international companies, are in South Africa this week to discuss mining interests in Africa, at a time when the local industry is struggling in the face of labour disputes, rising costs and slowing demand due to a stagnant global economy.
Shabangu reassured investors that the country was open for business, while calling on mining companies to work with the government to transform the industry for long-term social and economic sustainability.
'Partnerships premised on trust'
"We cannot over-emphasize the importance of partnerships premised on trust, shared vision, and confidence. These partnerships must include workers as an integral part of the entirety of the mining value chain."
Shabangu noted that the ruling African National Congress's (ANC's) elective conference in Mangaung in December had confirmed that nationalising South Africa's mines was "not an option for our country", adding that the government was fully aware of the reality that mineral development "cannot happen unless capital is invested by the private sector.
"There is room for both private and public returns. Indeed, these are interdependent."
At the same, the minister said, the industry had to work with the government in addressing the underlying socio-economic realities that resulted in the violence and tragic loss of life at the Marikana platinum mine in Rustenburg, North West province in August 2012.
Transformation 'a business imperative'
"The country and the industry cannot afford the prospect of another Marikana," Shabangu said. Transformation was therefore not just a moral but also a business imperative, and should not be "reduced to a compliance issue".
"Ours is a nation endowed with a young population and workforce, the envy of many others. In order for us to leverage the population dividend for the growth of the economy generally and the mining industry specifically, we need to work collectively to design responsive skills development interventions."
Shabangu noted that the number of mines in South Africa had grown from 993 in 2004 to almost 1 600 today, while the revenue they generated grew in nominal terms from R98-billion to R370-billion by the end of 2011, and employment grew from just under 449 000 to 530 000 in June 2012.
"This performance is factual and demonstrates the vibrant nature of the South African mining sector, which continues to provide opportunities for both local and international investment.
"We will continue to ensure that an enabling environment is created, while at the same time developing an environment that is responsive to the changing global economic environment and the dynamism of the contemporary mining industry."
The minister said the government's massive infrastructure programme, launched last year by President Jacob Zuma, was demonstration of the government's commitment to unlocking the country's mineral potential.
"I invite you to walk with us on this journey of partnership to build a mining industry of the future which will give practical meaning to our assertion that Africa's time has come."