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SA a terrible destination for mining investment - analysts

Jun 18 2017 18:00
Paul Burkhardt and Kevin Crowley, Bloomberg News

Johannesburg - South Africa’s latest mining overhaul could be mired in a long legal battle after producers vowed to stop the changes even as the government said it’s time the black majority benefits from the country’s mineral wealth.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane unveiled new rules for so-called black economic empowerment, including tougher ownership requirements, a community-development tax equal to 1% of revenue, and expanded quotas for buying goods and services from black-owned companies.

GAZETTE: Read the full Mining Charter

The Chamber of Mines, which represents South Africa’s biggest producers, plans to start fighting the plan in court as soon as next week.

“This charter’s not going to see the light of day anytime soon,” Peter Leon, the Africa co-chair at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said by phone. “We’re looking at years of protracted litigation.”

Producers are fuming after having been kept in the dark on the details of the updated Mining Charter and the chamber refused to attend a last-minute meeting with Zwane’s department earlier on Thursday, saying it wouldn’t be coopted into lending support.

The new rules, which don’t give credit for deals already concluded and from which black shareholders have since divested, will deter investment and serve as a “nail in the coffin” for the industry, said Steve Phiri, the chief executive officer of platinum producer Royal Bafokeng Platinum.

Court battle

“We’re confident of our prospects in court,” he told reporters in Johannesburg. “I would not rule out the possibility of this matter being decided by the highest court in the land.”

Miners would still prefer to reach a negotiated solution but are prepared to fight the changes if needed, Chamber of Mines president Mxolisi Mgojo told reporters.

Under the new rules, companies must ensure that their South African assets are 30% black-owned within 12 months, up from a previous level of 26%. If upheld, several of the country’s biggest mining companies would have to sell new stakes, raising the risk of dilution for existing investors.

“The value destruction is hard to quantify and the uncertainty will persist,” Liberum Capital analysts, including Ben Davis said in a note. “What is certain is that South Africa continues to be a terrible destination for mining, investment and assets in South Africa will continue to trade at a discount.”

South Africa holds the biggest reserves of platinum, chrome and manganese and mining companies operating in the country include Anglo American, Glencore and AngloGold Ashanti.

The legacy of apartheid

The push for increased black ownership of the industry is part of an effort to address the legacy of apartheid and, with its highly paid, mainly white, male executives overseeing hundreds of thousands of workers labouring in some of the world’s deepest and most dangerous operations, the mining industry is starkly symbolic of the country’s persisting inequalities. Yet critics say many deals have mainly benefited the politically connected elite and deter foreign investors.

Mining companies may also be getting caught in the cross hairs of local politics and posturing ahead of the African National Congress’s leadership conference in December, said Theo Venter, a political analyst at North West University’s business school in Potchefstroom.

The party will seek an urgent meeting with Zwane on the charter and is concerned about potential job losses as a result of the new charter, it said.

“Given the fact that the mining industry has shed about 60 000 jobs in the last five years, we don’t want legislation that will add to that bloodbath,” ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said by phone.

The ANC conference will pit rival factions, including one led by President Jacob Zuma, against each other.

“This is part of an effort by the Zuma faction to provide hard evidence that they are trying to put radical economic transformation into practice,” Venter said. "They are saying: 'We are not only talking, we are doing something'."

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