from the editor
my roommate at varsity had a fridge magnet that regularly made us both feel guilty at 2AM the morning before an exam, when we were painfully aware that we’d skipped too many lectures and hadn’t studied enough. “One of the greatest tragedies in life is to watch potential die untapped,” it read.
I was reminded of this quote by the Bahamian evangelist Myles Munroe over the weekend while chatting to Thabo Mashigo, a 48-year-old mineworker who spent 19 years toiling at Blyvooruitzicht mine near Carletonville until it was placed under provisional liquidation in 2013. He has been unable to find a job since; a fate likely awaiting most of the 8 500 mineworkers AngloGold Ashanti plans to retrench. More South Africans with skills and job experience, a steady salary and families to support, and often in the prime of life, suddenly left to survive “by God’s grace” – Mashigo’s explanation of how he and his family have coped.
There are commercial reasons behind both the Blyvoor and AngloGold situations that can be debated at length. For me, the tragedy lies in the untapped potential in South Africa’s mining sector, which we seemingly all feel comfortable describing as a “sunset industry” that is beyond redemption.
This is pure nonsense, of course. We remain richly endowed with mineral resources, including the richest known deposits of platinum group metals, and among the largest reserves of gold, diamonds, chromite ore and vanadium, according to the US Geological Survey. Manganese and iron ore are also in plentiful supply. In short, our mining industry should be booming, and experienced people like Mashigo should be finding their skills in high demand. (Also see page 36.)
The problem with mineral deposits is that they are completely worthless unless someone is willing to put in millions of dollars to extract them from the ground. As Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago said in Parliament recently, you simply cannot change the “mining policy of a country every time there is a change of minister or government” – which is exactly what we’ve been doing over the past two decades.
This is why our mining companies (such as Sibanye) and talented executives (think Randgold Resources’ Mark Bristow) are investing their capital and skills in countries with more regulatory stability – for Bristow, that include places like Ivory Coast, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
What politicians are doing to our mining sector isn’t a tragedy. It’s treason. ■