Debating Sustainable Mining in Cape Town

Attending the Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town, South Africa this month, Resource Initiatives participated in several sessions addressing the pressing issues surrounding sustainability in the mining industry.  The conference took place just before the announced resignation of Dr. Mamphela Ramphele as chairwoman of Gold Fields, amidst speculation that she is about to launch a political party to take on the ANC.  Speaking at Indaba, Ramphele noted that “dragging the mining sector into the 21st century” will require the collaboration of not just the government and mining companies, but that unions will have to change their ways as well.  Incoming Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani described the South African government’s threats to review mining licenses in light of the company’s plans to restructure its platinum business as “out of order.”  Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu had warned that the company’s failure to consult her properly would result in regulatory scrutiny of the entire Anglo American portfolio.

Indeed, the troubles in South Africa’s mining industry since last year’s violent strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine seem to have placed sustainable mining at the forefront of industry discussions here, as numerous conference sessions and informal conversations demonstrated.  Many investors are daunted, but not the Chinese.  As Zambian economist Dr. Dambisa Moyo implied in a keynote session, China’s rush to supply its rampant urbanization with needed mineral resources is so urgent, it alone is behind the investment drive into Africa – not neo-colonization as many Western critics (including recent US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) allege.  Noting that China is willing to pay top prices for investments in Africa when others won’t, she says those concerned should “put your money where your mouth is.”

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