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Final thoughts on the Cape Town Mining Indaba

Numbers may have been down on the previous year but it probably remains the most important African mining conference of all.

So this year’s Investing in African Mining Indaba convention in sunny Cape Town is over and although no official figures were forthcoming by the time of writing, one suspects the numbers were a little down on those of the previous two years. Somehow the convention centre just didn’t seem as busy and some exhibitors at the accompanying trade show commented that traffic in the aisles may have been a little lighter, but still substantial. If numbers were indeed down on the oft-quoted expected 7,000 attendees that would hardly be surprising given the industry has been suffering from mostly depressed commodity prices and mining investors have been having a pretty torrid time – particularly those invested in the junior sector.

But if the overall Indaba numbers themselves may have been down, one can’t be sure that the numbers of people flying in to Cape Town to benefit from the networking opportunities alongside it had actually fallen at all – certainly as those who may not have had confirmed – or honoured – hotel bookings will have been only too aware. Cape Town hotels were FULL almost across the board as one seemed to come across an increasing number of people from the mining and mining financial communities who went to Cape Town for meetings alongside the conference without actually registering, and paying, for the main event. To an extent that is a huge compliment to the organisers, although maybe not one they will be happy with. Cape Town in February has truly become a go-to destination for anyone involved in African mining whether they attend the conference itself, or the myriad of other functions and corporate receptions which have sprung up alongside it.

This year too the Indaba conference may perhaps have been too sectionalised which may also have detracted from perceived traffic. The organisers seem to have been trying to make it a case of ‘all things to all men’ with the main conference programme talks being split into more than a half dozen different categories, with most taking place not on the main stage, but in other conference room options within Cape Town’s big modern convention centre.

While there were some excellent keynote presentations and panel discussions it seemed somehow that some of the usual big names were missing – and maybe that detracted from the overall conference ambience. Of course the organisers did pull in one even bigger name in Tony Blair who spoke to a full conference room and one assumes this was a reminder perhaps to those attending that the new conference owners, the U.K.’s Euromoney Group, were both British, and had the stature (and the money) to be able to attract someone of Blair’s international status to speak. Perhaps an unnecessary demonstration of strength and political clout which may, or may not, have impressed the audience. Blair did, in his presentation, call for of stabilising tax regimes to attract business and new investment and one hopes the plethora of African ministers and senior government officials present may take note. Many were also very keen to have their photographs taken with Blair according to John Meyer of SP Angel in his brief summary of the event on his daily email to clients – presumably one of the tasks required of the former U.K. Prime Minister to help justify what will likely have been a six figure sum for his attendance.

One can criticise aspects of the whole Indaba event and what happens alongside. Some see it as something of a jolly in a very attractive location at a very pleasant time of year weather-wise. This may be so given the huge numbers of evening cocktail parties and receptions organised by the wealthier participants, but these also provide an immense part of the value of the overall event in terms of networking opportunities in a very pleasant ambience. And without the Indaba event itself as the focal attraction these could not exist. Perhaps those who go to Cape Town for the networking, but don’t pay to attend the conference itself, should bear this point in mind. No Indaba, no networking!

So whatever one’s criticisms – and any event of this kind of size is bound to attract them – there is perhaps no other investment conference in the world which can quite attract the vital mix of investors, financiers, corporates and, importantly, government ministers from a whole host of African nations aware that mining exploration and development can bring huge benefits to their local populations. The exchanging of viewpoints among the various ministerial teams has, on its own, to be a potentially very valuable contribution to the future of mining in Africa.

As host nation for the conference, South Africa faces its own problems with mining and its relatively new Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi went out of his way to try and allay fears. The country still has perhaps the most diverse and valuable mining sector on the whole African continent, but size and success brings with it its own problems – perhaps seen elsewhere as being adversely affected by African nationalism, although this is something the government seeks desperately to keep under control. It has also seen a wave of devastating mining strikes, accompanied by an uncomfortable degree of violence, which brought a big part of the country’s vital platinum sector to a standstill for nearly six months as a new union sought, successfully, to establish itself. The same union is now making efforts to do the same in the diminishing, but still very large, gold mining sector, which has to be troubling. The country’s under-investment in its grid power system, leading to rolling blackouts (load shedding), is also worrying and the Indaba provided a good forum for discussions on all of these matters. But at least South Africa is stable politically, has a terrific road and transportation infrastructure, huge existing mining operational and services industry and expertise, and excellent mineral exploration and development prospects most of which are more than can be said of most other African nations so it still remains potentially an attractive destination for inward investment.

Thus, as a conference bringing together much of the African mining industry from ministerial level through mining finance, investment, major and mid-tier miners and suppliers, the Investing in African Mining Indaba remains a great success – even if perhaps affected a little by the general industry downturn of the past two years. Maybe at the conference level it needs some more fine tuning, and perhaps a rethink on the rather high delegate fees – and some re-organisation of the accompanying exhibition to make it attractive again to the mining and exploration juniors on whom the original Mining Indaba was predicated some 20 years ago. There is no other African mining sector gathering that can come close in terms of bringing together the whole mining constituency, so it is hugely important for mining throughout the continent that the Mining Indaba remains a must-go-to event, but it may take an uplift in the global mining sector to see delegate numbers start to rise again – and if they do can Cape Town cope?

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