INCOMING Anglo boss Mark Cutifani says he has never bent over backwards to appease the government and never will.
Mr Cutifani, 54, has been CEO of AngloGold Ashanti since 2007 and is president of the Chamber of Mines.
A straight-talking Australian, son of a working-class dad from Italy and an Irish mom whose parents ran a pub, he spent 18 months working underground as a driller in a coal mine while studying for his mining engineering degree and 10 years underground as a shift boss and supervisor.
It seems not all that long ago that Anglo's upper echelons were the preserve of Oxbridge graduates with posh accents and no experience. Mr Cutifani, uniquely, can identify with the hard men underground like none of his predecessors could.
He may not be an appeaser, but he has established a reputation for diplomacy in his dealings with the government.
"I have tried to bend over backwards to make sure we've got a partnership," is how he puts it.
Hours after he spoke warmly to me, both about mining minister Susan Shabangu and the industry's partnership with the government, Ms Shabangu went on the rampage after Anglo subsidiary Anglo American Platinum announced it would be closing four shafts and laying off 14000 miners. She came close to accusing Anglo of sabotage and left one wondering what kind of contortionist Mr Cutifani will have to be to get this so-called partnership back on track.
Partnership is about trust, but even before Ms Shabangu's outburst, there was very little trust on show.
Mr Cutifani disputes this, but provides scant evidence. With the kind of reluctance that makes one feel sorry for pressing the point, he admits the government wasn't there for the industry when it faced the worst violence he's ever seen in a career spanning six continents.
The industry has a "good relationship" with the government, he insists, but concedes that this didn't come through in President Zuma's recent remark to CNBC Africa that it was making "huge profits" without benefiting the country's citizens.
He wants to let it pass, but has to admit Mr Zuma either was telling a deliberate whopper or doesn't have a clue what's happening in the country's most important sector.
Why does Mr Cutifani, as the industry's chief representative, allow the government to slag off the industry so frequently without challenging it?
"All I can say is the industry is under competitive pressures," he says. "We've been contracting. You just have to look at the numbers."
He admits that remarks such as Mr Zuma's, whether by design or not, keep popular sentiment against the industry at boiling point.
"I'm a little disappointed that those observations are made. It's unfair to say we're not making a contribution."
If it had made more of a contribution, said the government at the time, Marikana, triggered by the appalling living conditions of miners in Rustenburg, might never have happened.
"Marikana was a culmination of all our failures", he says, "but there are a lot of things we need to do better as an industry".
Including, perhaps, pointing out to the government that it was the failure of its own structures to provide basic services that led to those appalling living conditions?
Apparently not. "Leadership is about us taking accountability and that's what we've got to do as an industry," he says, giving a master class in how to bend over backwards for the sake of "partnership".
Shouldn't he be asking hard questions about what the government actually does with the vast amounts (R25.8-billion in direct corporate taxes last year, plus R5.5-billion in royalties) it gets from the mining industry?
"I won't point fingers," says Mr Cutifani. Other than to mention that "in the past five years, we've put more cash into South Africa than has been taken out".
The fact is, he says, that effective taxation, including royalties, on the industry's earnings in South Africa is between 35% and 40%. And international investors are wondering if the country is worth it any more, given all the other ways the local industry is being squeezed.
"They need to know whether we're getting a fair shake from the resources that we have in the country. That's an appropriate question for anybody to ask."
Pressure is reportedly mounting for Mr Cutifani to cut Anglo's South African exposure. Can he confirm this?
"Investors are concerned with, 'Are we seeing full value from our assets?'," he says.
Analysts say that cutting South Africa could add 20% to Anglo's value. "That's what the data suggests," Mr Cutifani agrees. But it's clearly not what he wants to do.
"If the government, industry and organised labour could demonstrate we were at one in our view of the future, I think it's worth 20% to our mining industry."
That's a giant "if". The aggressive reaction of Ms Shabangu and the ANC to the proposed Amplats shaft closures makes it clear that the government and industry are a long way from being at one.
What Ms Shabangu and the ANC regard as treachery, Mr Cutifani sees as unavoidable. Without closing uncompetitive shafts, there is no future for the industry, he says. The industry has "no choice but to handle competitive pressures".
And as electricity prices and labour costs, unsupported by increased productivity, continue to rocket, more shafts will have to close. "It's unavoidable."
Ms Shabangu warns that Amplats's mining rights will come under "close scrutiny". The ANC speaks of forcing it to surrender its shaft licences.
Mr Cutifani says such threats are imperilling the industry. "Mining is about real estate and security of tenure is absolutely critical."
Investors "worry that we're going to behave inappropriately as a country".
The fact that nationalisation "has been kicked into touch" is good. But now there is "strategic state ownership".
If this means the government is going to take a "disadvantaging position in investment", it will "destroy faith in the market" in the mining industry, he says.
What will also kill the future of local mining is more taxes.
He is greatly comforted by the presence of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
"He understands the issues, the need for fiscal policy to be consistent and appropriate."
The trouble is "there are too many people talking about fiscal policy. We should leave it to the people who have responsibility in government, who understand the world and how it works."
He concedes that Zuma's comments could be a prelude to more taxes, but says the government must be under no illusions that "higher taxes will mean less investment. Period.
"If, at the end of the day, investors cannot see how they can make money in South Africa, they won't invest and there won't be jobs."
He says the industry is on the brink, but will resolve its issues.
"The trouble is we go to the brink too often in this country. It takes us to get to the brink before we work the issues out."
* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times
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