President’s clarion call gets all ears at Indaba

SRK partner and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl

Delegates at the Investing in African Mining Indaba received a much-needed lift yesterday – as much from the physical presence of State President Cyril Ramaphosa as from the words he spoke during his address.

According to SRK partner and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl, it was significant that so many delegates at this popular annual conference in Cape Town were drawn to the president’s talk and to his message of collaboration.

“It was important that he conveyed this new thrust in person, giving it the gravity it needed,” said Van Zyl. “At the same time, his address was given more impact by the background engagements between government and mining executives. These interactions seem to show that his administration means to follow words with deeds.”

President Ramaphosa’s emphasis on greater collaboration between mining stakeholders found an enthusiastic ear at the Indaba, he said. The president also called for local government and communities to be more involved in finding solutions.

“In pursuit of a more sustainable future for mining, there is probably general consensus among mining companies that the relationship with government does not need to be so adversarial,” he said. “So there is more than a little relief here that doors may be opening for some middle ground between key stakeholders.”

While the Indaba now regularly focuses on mines’ social licence to operate, Van Zyl emphasised that it is difficult to practically apply this idea without an environment of constructive engagement. As a leading practitioner of stakeholder engagement and sustainability principles in mining, SRK has first-hand experience of the complexities involved.

“Given the many challenges in implementing a shared value approach in mining, we welcome any moves toward creating a culture or value system that fosters closer collaboration between stakeholders,” he said. “Many positive initiatives are underway between mines and communities, for instance, and we contribute to a number of them. But they rely on stakeholder commitment to engage with each other constructively – and the president reinforced that.”

Opening the conference, Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe re-committed government to being an active partner in improving communication.

“We have learnt the hard way that if you want investments, you have to talk to the industry and to communities too,” said Mantashe.

In a similar vein, Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani highlighted partnership and engagement as being at the heart of his company’s transformative approach to realise “truly sustainable development”. Cutifani said Anglo American’s work in “collaborative regional development” would create the catalyst for partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders, “from business to government, researchers to practitioners, and from community representatives to faith groups”.

Barrick Gold president and CEO Mark Bristow highlighted investment in local skills as a priority – to move away from the unsustainable concept of expatriate workforces in Africa. He said this would create value not just for shareholders, but for the host country – including governments, communities around mines and the citizens, “who have a right to participate not only as workers, but also as executives and managers.”