Department of Mineral Resources: Protecting the nation’s interests and assets

South Africa’s mining sector has been through a turbulent 18 months, with labour disputes boiling over into strikes and violence, the continued threat of illegal mining and safety issues an ongoing concern.

DoMRWith South Africa’s mineral reserves one of its greatest assets – and providing an opportunity to encourage overseas investment into the nation’s infrastructure, the Department of Mineral Resources is therefore tasked with a hugely important role in securing a sustainable future for this most precious of industries.

The vision of the Department of Mineral Resources is to enable a globally competitive, sustainable and meaningfully transformed minerals and mining sector to ensure that all South Africans derive sustainable benefit from the country’s mineral wealth. This is achieved within our legislative framework and as the legitimate custodian of the country’s mineral wealth.

As such the Department aims to promote and regulate the minerals and mining for transformation, growth and development, in a way that will mutually benefit all South Africans. To put that into context, the Department’s website makes the following assertion:

With Citibank estimating in 2010 that South Africa had R2.5 trillion worth of mineral reserves, it is clear that the mining industry is crucial in the war against poverty and underdevelopment in South Africa.”

Of course the history of mining in South Africa is a long one – and the need for regulation was realised at an early stage. The DMR is consequently, in all likelihood, one of the oldest Government departments in the country, with a number of Acts passed in 1897 and 1898, pertaining to the former Registrar of Mining Rights.

In 1980 the Government portfolio containing mining was changed from Mining, Environmental Planning and Energy, to Mineral and Energy Affairs. This subsequently changed to the Department of Minerals and Energy in 1997.

The Department has also played an important role in promoting equality. In 1999 Ms Pumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, who later became South Africa’s first female Deputy President, became the 30th Minister.

She and then Deputy Minister Susan Shabangu, were also the first female Minister and Deputy Ministers of the Department, respectively, the only Department to have had women as Minister and Deputy Minister at the same time.

Ms Shabangu now holds the role of Minister for the Department, which became the Ministry of Mineral Resources in 2009 (at the same time the Ministry of Energy was created), when newly elected President, Mr Jacob Zuma, announced the formation of 2 new ministries to replace the Department of Minerals and Energy.

An important aspect of mining and minerals policy in South Africa is that it is based on the principles of the Freedom Charter, meaning that mineral wealth beneath the soil will be transferred to the ownership of the people.

The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act is a key piece of legislation, as the Department’s website explains: “This has opened doors for the substantial and meaningful participation of historically disadvantaged South Africans in the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources. The Act enshrines equal access to mineral resources, irrespective of race, gender or creed. It also provides for the development of the Broad Based Socio-Economic Empowerment Charter, which is popularly known as the Mining Charter. The Mining Charter, as promulgated in 2004 made provision to review the progress against agreed targets after five years of its implementation.

The introduction of the Mining Charter in South Africa was aimed at transforming the mining industry to redress historical imbalances engendered by apartheid so that the industry is consistent with the changes in South Africa’s overall transformation of its social, political and economic landscape.”

Under the leadership of Minister Shabangu, the Department continues to be proactive in its efforts to create opportunity. In October, the Minister took part in a ceremony to hand over houses worth R9.6 million to the Mbonambi and Sokhulu communities in Richards Bay.

The event was marked by her statement stressing that mining companies should strive to uplift communities where they operate:

A company like RBM should ensure that communities where it mines are better off than when it started operating here 37 years ago,” she said.

In this first phase of development, the houses, built by Richards Bay Minerals as part of the implementation of its Social and Labour Plan, will benefit 20 families, including child-headed households. The communities are located close to the mining company’s operations. A total of 240 jobs were created during the construction of the projects.

We are proud today to create opportunities for our young people to be better skilled, so they can become contributors to the growth and development of the South African economy,” she said.

The Minister commended RBM for embracing transformation, by appointing a black South African, Mr Mpho Mothoa, as head of its mining operations in SA. She also challenged other companies to emulate this model.

Also in October Ms Shabangu was scheduled to host the first National Jewellery Forum in Johannesburg. The Forum brought together mining and jewellery manufacturing associations and Government, with the view to creating entrepreneurs with the requisite skills to enable South Africa to become a global jewellery hub.

Jewellery manufacturing is one of the five key value chains identified in the Beneficiation Strategy approved by Cabinet in 2011, implementation of which will leverage the country’s precious metal and gemstone reserves to position South Africa as a thriving and globally competitive jewellery hub.

A month earlier, the Minister had spoken out against illegal mining operations, during a visit to a West Rand community.

Illegal mining poses a danger not only to the miners themselves, but to the communities, as well as the economy and existing mines,” Minister Shabangu said.

The Ministry indicated that up to July of this year, 10 “disruption operations” had been conducted by law enforcement agencies. A total of 15 illegal miners were arrested, as well as 135 illegal immigrants, and 1,135 bags of sand and gold concentrate had been confiscated. The illegal connection of municipal water, which was impacting negatively on residents, has also been stopped.

We need to develop and implement a lasting solution to eliminate these illegal mining activities. We must also integrate our approach around Gauteng to ensure that we have a common strategy,” the Minister concluded.