MINING companies must be active in the debate around a mineral policy formulated by the African National Congress (ANC) over the next six months or live with the consequences, one of the country's most influential mining leaders has warned.

Mark Cutifani, CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, told a Mining For Change seminar in Johannesburg yesterday that nationalisation as proposed by various factions in the ANC and its alliance partners has been "kicked into touch" at the party's policy conference.

This view was opposed by Abiel Mngomezulu, head of parastatal mineral research company Mintek, who argued that nationalisation would remain topical as long as communities had expectations about the benefits the industry should deliver to them.

The mining sector faces six more months of uncertainty after last week's ANC policy conference failed to deliver a decisive message to the minerals sector.

The conference accepted the proposals in the State Intervention in the Minerals Sector report, commissioned by the ANC.

The party's policies will be finalised at its electoral conference in December, giving the industry until then to participate in the formulation of that policy.

"I observe a revolutionary movement and a political party all mixed up in one set of conversations. I'm not sure how you could come out with definitive conversations in a policy conference. That will probably come after you've nominated the people who have to sell the message," said Mr Cutifani, who is vice-president of the Chamber of Mines.

"At least the things that really worried us weren't ticked (at the policy conference) and in fact you could see people wanting to get the balance right. There's a lot more work to be done on sharpening the message and that's where we'd like to see the ANC and the government focus its conversations in the next six months," he said. "As an industry, there's an opportunity for us to be part of the debate and we'd better take it or, at the end of the day, we can't complain about the result if we don't like it."

Mr Cutifani said the debate had moved away from nationalisation. "I'm pleased to say I think we've kicked that ball (nationalisation) into touch.. I think the debate has morphed into something that is much more constructive, which is the role of the state in the minerals industry and the role of companies in creating a better society."

Mr Mngomezulu, who spent nearly eights years in senior positions in the Department of Minerals and Energy, said the nationalisation debate was nowhere near resolved. "Everybody from this weekend was saying that nationalisation is off the table. I don't think so," Mr Mngomezulu said. Unrealised expectations of what mines could deliver to communities had fuelled the calls for their nationalisation, he added.

"Even if we form a state mining company it is going to have the same problem the private sector companies are facing - expectations from communities which are expecting things that are impossible," said Mr Mngomezulu, a nonexecutive director of state mining company African Exploration, Mining and Finance Company.

Communities had to be educated on what their involvement would be and regulations were needed to outline companies' responsibilities so everyone clearly understood what benefits could come from mines, he said.

A lot of changes needed to be made to existing regulations, said Faith Bikani, an ANC MP who serves on the parliamentary portfolio committee on mineral resources. These included changes to the Mining Charter.

Ms Bikani ruled out any nationalisation of mines.

"It's just not possible," she said, adding that the state could barely afford to deal with the legacy of ownerless and derelict mines.

seccombea@bdfm.co.za