Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

THERE are so many things wrong with Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu’s response to the tragic layoffs planned at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) that it is difficult to know where to start.

One entry point is her complaint that Amplats consulted her department less than a week before it announced the shaft closures and loss of up to 14,000 jobs this week. She seems to believe the government had a right to be involved in the company’s decision-making process from the beginning.

Here’s a tip, minister: we nominally have a free-market economy. That means business is not part of the government and makes its own decisions. That’s why it often turns a profit rather than needing state support.

Shabangu also accuses Amplats of "disrespecting" the regulator. How shocking to not pay reverence to a department that continually fails to meet its own obligations and acts as a brake on mining development, rather than as a facilitator.

Even more egregious is the stated intention to review all of Anglo American’s mining rights to make sure that they "comply to regulatory prescripts" (sic). And there I was naively believing that it was the job of the minister and her department to ensure that all companies with mining rights complied with all the regulations.

Perhaps this is an admission that laws are only there to punish people or companies the African National Congress (ANC) does not like? This impression of capricious enforcement is reinforced by the illegal artisanal gold mining taking place in clear view daily next to the Randfontein Road on the edge of Soweto.

How different the minister’s attitude appears to be to the mining magnate on whose behalf she bid R3.7m for an indifferent painting to raise funds for the ANC. One infers from the Sunday Times story that the magnate is Patrice Motsepe. I guess he doesn’t have to worry about having his mines inspected for breaches of regulations.

One can only conclude from the minister’s willingness to personally offer up the money of someone who depends on her for mining licences that she does not understand the concept of conflict of interest or simply does not give a hoot. Either way, she certainly fails to understand the consequences of a mineral rights regime with no credibility. Who wants to put mining money into a country where a company will be treated harshly unless it is a close friend of the ruling party?

One more helpful tip for the minister, who also tore into Amplats’ declared intention to reskill workers who will lose their jobs: mining jobs can be assured if the government ran the sector with a view to growing it, rather than with the twin intentions of punishing mining companies and shovelling money to its friends (who in turn shovel some of it into ANC coffers).

If the government were to clarify the rules, cut back on the thicket of regulations that drive up costs, apply the rules consistently and in a way that everybody can understand and trust, apply safety stoppages sensibly, and change the labour laws so that they’re no longer just a racket to empower and enrich the Congress of South African Trade Unions elite, then our mining industry would grow. That would mean more jobs and more tax money for the government.

For months Shabangu has been deaf to the approaching calamity in the mining sector. Now she seems surprised. It is a situation she has wrought, or at best, failed to prevent. It is in her hands, and the hands of her ANC colleagues, to turn this around.

• Lorimer is the DA’s shadow minister of mineral resources.