Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: AFP PHOTO/RODGER BOSCH
Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane addresses the first day of the Mining Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Monday. Picture: AFP PHOTO/RODGER BOSCH

NEW Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane flagged a range of factors troubling the local mining industry on Monday, but participants at the Mining Indaba were disappointed at the lack of firm action to deal with their concerns.

Issues Mr Zwane addressed included regulatory uncertainty, an unsettled labour environment and corruption or favouritism in his department.

The delay of more than a year in correcting and passing a bill amending the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) has heightened uncertainty.

It has become mired in parliamentary processes to address problematic areas that prompted President Jacob Zuma to return the bill to Parliament early last year.

After meeting CEOs and investors before and at the indaba attended by about 6,000 delegates, Mr Zwane told a packed hall he was fully aware of the need to expedite the passage of the bill and allay concerns.

"I assure you that the government … has prioritised the processing and finalisation of the MPRDA amendment bill as a matter of urgency in order to entrench the necessary certainty," he said.

He later said the bill would be finalised in the second quarter of this year, while the a review of the Mining Charter, which governs the transformation of the sector, would be finalised by the end of April.

The bill is currently in the National Council of Provinces.

"Bring it on. It has been too long in coming," said Roger Baxter, CEO of the Chamber of Mines. "We have been waiting for this amendment bill since 2012, so the sooner the better."

The chamber started court proceedings against the department last year to seek a declaratory order around the empowerment obligations in the charter. It wants clarity around the heavily contested "once empowered, always empowered" aspect of the charter. The matter is due in court in next month, but Mr Zwane said he wanted the parties to settle out of court.

"We have had engagements with the government on the process of trying to resolve the declaratory order. The dual process in court and the discussions are continuing. We cannot predict or pre-empt what result we will get to in the short term," Mr Baxter said.

Mr Zwane "made all the right noises about fast tracking the bill and the Mining Charter and the chamber’s legal challenge," said Peter Leon, mining lawyer and partner at Herbert Smith Freehills. "If you actually consider his speech and reflect on what he said at his press conference there wasn’t anything of real substance to give effect to these noble aspirations," he said.

Other delegates agreed, with Jacques Barradas, the mining law specialist at Grant Thornton, saying: "The minister’s speech was of a person who is still finding his feet. It was a noncommittal and nonspecific address that had very few aspects which would raise any concern," adding there were some positive points the minister had raised.

Mr Zwane, who has been in the job just four months and is the third mines minister in as many years to address the conference, was a far more active participant at the annual indaba than his predecessors, addressing a number of functions and events.

One senior mining figure who spoke on condition of anonymity said some matters Mr Zwane had raised came from an intense five-week engagement between the state, the industry and labour about problems besetting the industry and how best to address them.

However, he had been "too vague" and had not delivered substance or details on solutions.

The general air of dissatisfaction with Mr Zwane’s speeches came against a backdrop of general gloom at the conference as mining companies struggle with weakness in global commodity prices and demand and efforts to keep their operations profitable.

In what was widely seen as a precursor to Anglo American’s results next week at which the company will give fuller details of its huge restructuring entailing the reduction of assets to between 20 and 25 from 55 and the reduction of 85,000 jobs from its payroll, CEO Mark Cutifani delivered a bleak assessment for the year ahead after an extremely difficult 2015.

Global mining stocks had lost $1.4-trillion of market value since 2011, he said at an indaba which was noticeably less busy than last year.

"In the less than three years I have led Anglo American, the commodity markets have been on a perpetual downward curve — the steepest I have seen in almost 40 years in the industry," he said.

"We cannot rely on a reversal of this price slump any time soon. For many of us in the industry, 2016 is already shaping up to be the most challenging yet. Opinions are divided on whether we have reached the bottom of the cycle. So things may still get worse," he said.