Cape Town - The Chamber of Mines was accused of arrogance on Wednesday, and one of its senior executives was warned not to treat MPs as fools.
Water affairs portfolio committee chairperson Johnny de Lange said he was "absolutely stunned" by the chamber's suggestion that there was a government "policy vacuum" on the issue of acid mine drainage.
The committee was hearing presentations on the second day of public hearings into the government's draft second National Water Resource Strategy.
"I'm absolutely stunned by your attitude," De Lange told chamber senior executive Nikisi Lesufi, who was responding to questions following the chamber's presentation to the committee.
"That you think there's a policy vacuum and you're waiting for government to fill [this], when acid mine drainage - we can be 100% sure - is the sole responsibility of mines.
"I find it stunning that you can come to a committee and say you need government to have policies and strategies in place, and you do not make a single suggestion from the chamber's side," De Lange told him.
He said the chamber was a major role player in the South African economy, and that its members were major consumers of resources, including water.
Earlier, responding to questions about mines operating without water-use licences, Lesufi told members the chamber accepted that unregulated mining activity posed a threat to the country's water resources.
"[But] it would be dangerous to fall within the trap of generalisation, [and say] that all mining activities are a threat to water resources."
If certain mines posed such a threat, why, in a regulated environment, did the government allow them to continue operating, he asked.
"You cannot blame other mining companies for the inaction of one mining company.
"I do not understand how we [the chamber] - who represent the more far-sighted elements of the industry, who want to partner with government to make good things - should be held accountable for opportunists and bloodsuckers who don't care about the country's future.
"We came here to offer a hand of friendship. We may have some shortcomings... but we are not going to be held responsible for misfits... We do not represent them," he said.
Lesufi was challenged on this by De Lange, who insisted that Lesufi say when the chamber had spoken out about mining companies which were operating without a water-use licence.
"Where are those statements, I'd like to see them?" he asked.
Lesufi responded: "We don't issue statements."
De Lange then warned him not to treat the committee as fools.
"Don't say those things you're saying to me. We're not fools here. Please do not do that. If you are saying you're not responsible, and you're against those people... You are the industry, and they're undermining your image as the mining industry.
"I expect you to be taking a stand against them... But you know you haven't."
Lesufi said this was not correct.
"We have removed those members who are not complying with legislation... They are not part of us. I repeat, I will not accept responsibility for those that are not within our sector."
De Lange then told him: "It is this kind of arrogance that made you make the submission you are making... This kind of arrogance that you are displaying at the moment in front of this committee, and the heated way that you are dealing with... the legitimate questions....
"To say you have kicked them out is not the same as taking a stand on these issues about the moral wrongness of what is being done. So don't pretend you're doing that, because you're not."
Lesufi said he stood by his views.
"If my [responses] are not acceptable, I apologise, but they are my views and I stand by them."
He said the chamber had taken a stand against mines not complying with legislation, and urged the department to "root out those companies that are operating without [water] licences".
On acid mine drainage arising from historical mining activity, he said other countries - such as Australia, Canada and the United States - all had problems with this.
The difference between them and South Africa, however, was they had put programmes in place to deal with it.
"They have dedicated programmes, where they've got policy space, where they've got a priority and criteria of how to deal with these issues, which we haven't had yet. That is why we are saying there is a policy vacuum in terms of creating a framework for that," Lesufi said.
In a document tabled at the hearing, the chamber said its members were taking steps to deal with acid mine drainage.
"However, it is important to mention that a policy gap still exists in terms of the government strategy to deal with AMD resulting from historical legacy of mining, ie derelict and ownerless mines," it states.