AMCU decries, mining sector hails Mantashe appointment


Johannesburg – Gwede Mantashe’s appointment as South Africa’s new mining minister has been hailed as a stroke of genius by mining industry experts, but elicited mixed reactions from unions. 

Sorting out differences around the controversial Mining Charter will be critical to revive the dwindling industry, the parties agree, and Mantashe’s long track record in mining should serve him well here.

His close relationship with President Cyril Ramaphosa and their shared compassion for the industry inspire confidence, analysts say. 

Mantashe started his career as a mineworker in 1975, before rising through the union ranks to became the National Union of Mineworkers’ national organiser from 1988 to 1993, and eventually its general secretary in 1998. 

The NUM tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that it welcomed his appointment. Commenting on his mining background, the union said he knows the mining industry very well and it is “hopeful that he will make some changes”.

NUM was ecstatic about the removal of former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, saying that South Africa had “a minister that was employed to come and assist a particular faction, in particular the Guptas”.

“All the stakeholders in the mining industry had a problem with Mosebenzi Zwane. The NUM never had a good relationship with him.”

The union doesn’t expect to be “pleased” by Mantashe, but said it would do its best to support him. “We do not want him to be biased,” NUM said.

“We do not want any favour from him. He must comply and do everything within the laws of this country,” NUM said.

‘Salt in wounds’

Rival union the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU), however, was concerned that Mantashe is too closely linked to the Marikana massacre. While welcoming the replacement of the “Gupta-linked” former minister Zwane, the union accused Mantashe of ‘destabilising’ AMCU during the Marikana strike. 

“Appointing Mantashe is rubbing salt in the wounds of the Marikana survivors,” said AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, calling the minister “an enemy of AMCU”.

There is no love lost between Mathunjwa and Mantashe, after Mantashe led the charge to force the AMCU president out of NUM several years ago.

Policy certainty 

Mining expert Peter Leon, co-chair and partner of Herbert Smith Freehills, welcomed Mantashe’s appointment,  urged the new mining minister to make policy certainty his key and urgent priority.

Leon said the Fraser Institute’s Annual Survey of Mining Companies showed that South Africa’s perception ranking had declined by more than 14% since the introduction of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment (MPRDA) Bill in 2013, and almost 5% following the publication of last year’s Mining Charter.

“If South Africa wishes to move out of the bottom league of African mining countries, it will have to reset the direction of its mineral regulatory regime,” Leon said.

While Ramaphosa’s intervention in the court case between the Chamber of Mines and the department of mineral resources around the reviewed Mining Charter was an important first step, South Africa will have to do a lot more to catch up with its African peers, he said. 

A familiar face, part of the fold

Ernst & Young African Mining and Metals leader Wikus Botha said Mantashe was well-liked in the mining industry.

“He is known by the Chamber of Mines and the unions, in particular NUM,” said Botha, adding that his comprehensive understanding of the sector would serve him well.

“Mantashe has political currency and is well suited for the position,” Botha said.

Peter Major, director of mining at Cadiz Corporate Solutions, regards Mantashe as an “interesting choice” but a good one, particularly as he is backed by Ramaphosa.

He said the two have the wealth of experience needed to lead the sector’s revival.

He believes that “no one has done more to destroy” the South African gold mining industry than Ramaphosa and Mantashe.

“They,  more than any two other people, oversaw the demise of gold industry employment – from 550 000 in 1987/88, down to maybe 80 000  to 90 000 today,” he explained.

This made them very cognisant of the “shambles” of what it is today, and the part they played as unionists, Major argued.

“No one is better placed today in the world to try to help South Africa’s mining industry than Mantashe and Ramaphosa,” Major said.

The appointment was better than any in the past 30 years, he concluded.

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