EDITORIAL: Beneficiation 1:1, a reading for St Paul
THE revolution has a lot to put up with. There's liberal hypocrisy, nationalist greed, the president's relaxed attitude to criminality. But nothing threatens the African National Congress (ANC) so much as leftist conceit.
It has been much on display lately. Earlier this month it was Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Lionel Adendorf, who - his department having failed to undertake a routine fish survey and threatened with the loss of important Northern European markets to South African exporters - blithely told them to get over it and find other markets. Unbelievable.
This week it was the turn of Paul Jourdan, former director-general in the Department of Trade and Industry, head of Mintek and more recently an author of the ANC's report on the nationalisation of mines, to add his bit to the destruction of investor confidence in SA.
Mining companies that did not contribute to the beneficiation of the minerals they dig out of the ground should rather leave them there and leave the country, he told an audience in Johannesburg. Go to Australia, he childishly added.
Mr Jourdan should know better. And, in fact, he thinks he does. But comments such as his and Mr Adendorf's are immeasurably destructive of the ANC's mission of economic growth and transformation and a better life for all. It is alarming to think that this is the man to whom the ANC will sit and listen this week before deciding on the future course of our single biggest industry.
Mr Jourdan's remarks represent at least something of a beacon against which to measure the sheer hatred of established business among the South African left. It is an attitude to be found throughout government and to a large extent explains the very existence of the problem the ANC is putting so much effort into solving this week.
Clearly, they are looking in the wrong place. Had the party only been able to implement the many good policies it already has on the table, it and the country would not be in the trouble they are.
The truth about Mr Jourdan's foolish remarks about beneficiation is that miners cannot be expected, suddenly, to become something they have never been - manufacturers. If beneficiation in SA is so attractive, why are other entrepreneurs not piling into it?
Is it not a juicy space for new black businesses in the "real" economy? Why, given its taste for becoming an economic actor, does the state not beneficiate? Is it perhaps scared of its own electricity prices? It would, if it could, force the mines to sell their ores to local beneficiators at knock-down prices, but that would force the mines into the red, and you can't tax losses.
And what of the markets to which we export iron ore, platinum and other minerals? Do they simply fall over in admiration of SA's new industrial vision and hand over to us the customers to which they now sell the products manufactured from the minerals we export? Of course not. They would put up a fight.
The most obvious way forward industrially for SA is to use our past (no matter how distasteful) to our future advantage. Our mining industry has always been the main driver of manufacturing here, and we can still be a centre of hi -tech and competitive extractive technologies, much of which de-industrialisation under the ANC has forced us to import.
But, instead, the state wants to build ships! The South Koreans must be shaking in their boots.
There are few groups of people as blind to their own limitations as the ideological left, from whose bosom Mr Jourdan springs. The obvious is never good enough. We hope the ANC will one day soon get over its love affair with such dangerous demagogues. SA needs to be pragmatic about its economy. What's good is what works. There's seldom any point in change for its own sake.
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