SA mining trapped in the 19th century – Ramphele

Mamphela Ramphele

South Africa needs to dig itself out of a 19th-century mining business model, academic Mamphela Ramphele said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a media briefing ahead of an international leadership education conference in Cape Town, she said a failure to change the nature of the industry was having devastating repercussions.

“We’ve just had this tragic Marikana debacle, and what was in evidence there is the consequence of South Africa failing to transform the mining industry from a 19th century business model, which relies on cheap migrant labour, very archaic mining technology and a… low-skilled, labour-intensive industrial base.”

She said change could come from leaders of business schools, leaders in the private mining sector and citizens putting their heads together.

“I want to make sure my three-year old grandson, in 30 years’ time, is in a country he can be proud of; and that will not happen, unless we deal with the legacy issues which are holding us back.”

Ramphele, who also chairs the Gold Fields board, said her recent visit to the mining house’s Australian operations showed the industries in the two countries were like chalk and cheese.

“Of course, they were established in different periods, but that doesn’t stop us, because one of the things South Africa is underplaying is technological innovation capacity,” Ramphele said.

She referred to the London Underground rail system, and said tunnelling technology developed in South Africa had contributed towards this.

Ramphele said the ability to innovate and change to a new mining model was not lacking in South Africa.

“We just have not applied our minds because there isn’t the political leadership and will to create a framework for a mining industry of the 21st century.”

She also took aim at industry bosses.

“The private sector, in the form of the mining industry, has also not exercised its mind about how do you leverage the huge endowment… in the form of mineral resources; leveraging that as a way of positioning South Africa as a globally competitive economy… .”

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Ramphele said South Africa had missed the benefits of the last mining boom, while other countries flourished.

“The other thing we do in South Africa — which is really inexplicable, that’s the polite way of putting it — is that we are exporting value to China, to India, to everywhere.

“We mined the riches the dear Lord gave us, gave it to others to process, which means we are exporting jobs, then we re-import (processed minerals) at huge costs for our own purposes, which is why we are de-industrialising.”

She said re-industrialisation in mining would depend on a rethink of the whole value chain.

Ramphele is also a businesswoman and medical doctor, and was an anti-apartheid activist. – Sapa