Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane says he is optimistic about the future of mining in South Africa.
“We have currently around R50tn worth of minerals, which has not been touched underground,” Minister Zwane said.
Speaking during a New Age Business Briefing, he said the discovery of shale gas in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape and some parts of Free State meant that mining will remain a viable industry for years to come.
He was responding to a question on whether he agreed with people who say that mining is a sunset and sunrise industry.
Even though mining has a lot of potential, Minister Zwane said this year would be tough as the industry faces challenges with commodity prices being at their lowest.
He said his department has come up with a 10-point plan, which is aimed at cushioning job losses in the industry.
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) estimates that the industry could lose 32 000 jobs in 2016.
Upon hearing about the possibility of job losses, Minister Zwane met with stakeholders and a number to CEOs of the primary rights holders and engaged them on the issue of transformation, job losses and the Mining Charter.
“I am pleased that during those engagements, we were able to save about 3 000 jobs, which were already at stake forming part of the 32 000 jobs that are an estimate,” Minister Zwane said.
He said in the upcoming Mining Indaba, he will discuss ways of reviving the mining industry and how Black Economic Empowerment can be enabled in the sector.
He is expected to open the 2016 Mining Indaba, which takes place from 8 February to 11 February, in Cape Town.
Analyst Clive Smith said government has done a lot to attract investors globally to invest in the country’s mining sector. He said the biggest challenge the sector faced was making it stable and making sure that there are no job losses.
“It seems like the quickest way for mining companies to get out of a problem is to cut down jobs. Perhaps we must look at a way to balance … You can’t always make a profit and then all of a sudden when there is a global crises, the first thing you think of is putting people out of work because that is a problem in South Africa,” Smith said.
He said that mining companies must do much more for the communities in which they mine.
“The living conditions are really dire. We need to ask ourselves how can people continue to live in these conditions?”
Smith said it was not just the responsibility of government but also of the mining companies to make sure that communities have decent living conditions.