The process to stabilise the mining sector in the country continues, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.
Delivering his sixth State of the Nation Address (Sona) in Parliament, Zuma said last year a process was started to engage business on specific steps that government can take to make it easier to do business in the country.
"Arising out of that process, we have now streamlined regulatory and licensing approvals for environmental impact assessments, water licenses and mining licenses. Parliament is finalising amendments to the law to give effect to this very positive development, which will cut to under 300 days, the time it takes to start a mine, from application to final approvals," said the President on Thursday.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe continues to facilitate discussions between government, mining companies and labour. In June 2013, Motlanthe released a new Draft Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry as part of a bid by the government to stabilise the sector.
"The purpose is to stabilise industrial relations in this very important sector of our economy. The process is yielding results," said the President, adding that strikes in the sector in 2013 were fewer and shorter.
Industrial relations processes were now taking place in a manner consistent with the country's laws.
Deviating from his prepared speech, the President added that he believed that mine owners cared about their mining operations and that union leaders cared for the well-being of mineworkers.
"In no way can we have conflict that destroys the economy," said President Zuma.
The mining sector is the backbone of the country's economy and a major provider of employment.
The sector has recently seen strike action and several accidents which resulted in the loss of life. Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu on Wednesday said her department would work with stakeholders in the mining sector to consider effective measures that will improve the health and safety of mineworkers.
Shabangu made the comments at the memorial service for nine miners who died at Harmony Gold's Doornkop mine in the West Rand last week. The miners died following a fire after a seismic event and rockfall that damaged electric cables at the mine. A good working environment and making sure that miners do not lose jobs was an important factor to take into account in labour negotiations, added the President, in his off the cuff commentary on the sector.
"If sides don't work together, it affects our economy," he said, adding that it should not be easy for workers to go on strike and for mines to reduce the number of the workforce.
Additionally, government is exploring partnerships with stakeholders to address the issue of housing in mining towns.
"Let me also remind mining companies that 2014 is the deadline for them to improve housing and living conditions of mineworkers and to achieve a number of targets."
Government is also continuing to monitor and enforce compliance on mining companies' social and labour plans and Mining Charter targets.
Zuma acknowledged the importance of the sector, saying it one of the country's job drivers that employs over half a million people.
"It is the biggest earner of foreign exchange in our country. It also contributes about R20 billion directly to the tax revenue," he said.
Progress has also been made in the Mining Charter, with visits being made to various companies with a view to finalising the charter by November.
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Zuma delivered the last State of the nNation Address, under the current administration which began in 2009, to a joint sitting of Parliament.