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Mining bosses, investors discuss sector drawbacks at Joburg Indaba

Chairman Bernard Swanepoel on modernisation and labour.

HANNA BARRY: The Joburg Indaba, focused on mining and resources, started today up here in Gauteng. Key issues include the impact of commodity market forecasts on the industry, how investors are thinking about the sector, the pros and cons of beneficiation and much more.

Bernard Swanepoel is the chairman of The Joburg Indaba and joins us now. Bernard, it’s good to have you with us. Thanks for your time. Let’s jump straight in. Today the Indaba heard from a number of mining bosses in a CEO panel discussion. I’d like to know if they were critical enough about how they are measuring up in a very tough environment.

BERNARD SWANEPOEL: You know, if the CEOs were not critical enough, we did have a perception survey about how the industry is faring – and we came out very badly in the eyes of all the participants. And then of course we had a panel of fund managers who spoke their minds and they are not happy with the sixth year of negative returns in the resources sector in South Africa. And so that created the right environment. We are self-critical.

But this Indaba is also trying to talk about modernisation – how do we move forward. What do we take with us? Because obviously an industry like ours with 120 years of legacy and history – it’s not all bad. There are some good things in our DNA; and how do we use that to build a more modern industry?

HANNA BARRY: Let’s talk about modernisation and perhaps the elephant in the room in the sector is labour. Tomorrow the Indaba will be hearing from AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa in the context of a discussion on modernising the industry. What are you expecting or hoping will come out of that discussion? Perhaps we’ll avoid an impending strike by AMCU workers at Sibanye Gold?

BERNARD SWANEPOEL: I don’t expect Mr Mathunjwa to come and use that platform to further negotiations with specific participants, but we are going to ask him, as we’ve asked many participants today, what he can do to help us modernise the industry. What is it that AMCU needs to give and what is it that AMCU needs to get in order to modernise? We can all have our rested positions, and especially during wage negotiation we stand where we stand. But wage negotiations come and go. We need a compact with labour, we need a deal which takes the industry forward in the best interests of the country, not only the AMCU members.

HANNA BARRY: Absolutely. On that you speak about a compact with labour and taking the nest interests of the industry forward. What other objectives specifically can you speak to, Bernard, that you hope will be achieved over the Indaba?

BERNARD SWANEPOEL: I am obviously quite optimistic, as are at least 55% of our participants, according to a survey here. The long-term potential or future of this industry is positive. So if you accept that and you say in 20 years from now we will still mine in South Africa, then you can take a different view. I am very optimistic that for the first time we are unpacking modernisation and we are saying, you know what, that’s not mechanisation.

Mechanisation is taking hired workers and replacing them with a yellow machine. It has its place, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Modernisation is trying to fix all the structural problems of the industry, whether on the government side, whether on the side of labour, whether on the side of management. And that’s a healthy conversation and will feed into the Phakisa process that the President announced and which will kick off later in the month.

HANNA BARRY: There we go. Bernard Swanepoel is the chair of the Joburg Indaba taking place currently here in Johannesburg.

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Unless the illegal mining is addressed as a matter of urgency -the gold mining sector is doomed -with the so-called modernisation attempt by gold bosses

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