Mantashe punts hoax mineral to investors
In an attempt to woo investors to SA, mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe promoted a mineral that existed only in the minds of those behind an April Fool’s Day spoof.
In a speech written for Mantashe and delivered by him at the Africa Down Under mining conference in Perth on Wednesday to about 400 delegates he extolled the virtues of the newly discovered “Hazenile” battery mineral.
Business Day has a recording of Mantashe’s speech, in which he stuck tightly to the prepared script. Hazenile, he said in his speech to attract companies from one of the world’s most dynamic mining jurisdictions to SA, was “discovered in abundance in the area between the crypte (sic) and throne room caves in the Congo (sic) Caves in the Western Cape” and that “this mineral element will be crucial in the manufacturing of battery storage technologies”.
The problem is the mineral
Hazenile does not exist in the Congo Caves or the Cango Caves. The Smart Energy International website clearly flags its April 1 2019 story, from which the department’s speech writer copied a paragraph including “Congo Caves”, as a hoax.
“This was an April Fool’s joke. We hope you had a laugh along with us,” the site says in bold red letters at the top of the piece.
The department said that the minister’s speech was “well received” and that he had met 20 investors who “reiterated their commitment to investing in SA”.
“It’s unfortunate that the focus is being shifted to what has now been confirmed as fake news on one mineral by a site which normally carries reliable information on the sector.”
An investor in SA’s mining sector, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said this could damage SA’s reputation.
The inclusion of Hazenile detracted from what was a positive speech at a time when thousands of jobs are being lost in SA’s mining industry, particularly in gold mines, as costs in recent years, most notably for electricity, have well outpaced commodity price increases.
“Unfortunately it undermines whatever positive message the minister was trying to convey about the SA mining industry and raises questions about the seriousness and professionalism of his department,” said Peter Leon, a veteran mining lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills.
“I think the minister needs a new speech writer.”
Mantashe repeated the message he delivered at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February that SA is open for business.
Mantashe drew on a figure for SA’s mineral wealth that was first published by a Citigroup report in 2010, which estimated SA’s unmined mineral wealth at $2.5-trillion. He used the figure to outline how attractive SA’s mineral treasure chest remained and why investors should come to the country.
The figure, which has been repeated by many mines ministers, is disputed by many in the industry and is more controversial nearly a decade later.
“The $2.5-trillion in situ mineral wealth number is complete nonsense, and the minister is poorly advised to use it,” said Paul Miller, MD of CCP 12J Fund, who was with investment banking in mining at Nedbank for 14 years and CEO of coal miner Keaton Energy for five years.
“More than 90% of that number is made up of the estimated platinum group metals in the Bushveld Igneous Complex that exist beyond the capability of all currently known or imagined mining technologies. They cannot be mined, and certainly cannot be mined economically.
“Yes, SA has remaining mineral potential, but using the $2.5-trillion number in a forum of mining industry experts is just embarrassing.”