South African government not threatening mining firms: Zuma

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 23, 2013 9:10 AM
South African government not threatening mining firms: Zuma

By Emma Thomasson

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The South African government needs to "engage" with platinum and gold mining firms about proposed shaft closures and mass lay-offs and is not threatening them with license reviews, President Jacob Zuma said on Wednesday.

"We are not making any threat to anyone. We are saying: 'Let us come together, let us discuss. This affects all of us. It does not affect companies only,'" he told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Zuma's comments strike a more conciliatory tone than the prevailing rhetoric from Pretoria in the wake of Anglo American Platinum's announcement this month of plans to mothball shafts and lay off 14,000 workers as part of a restructuring by parent company Anglo American.

In an unscripted tirade against the company shortly after its announcement, mining minister Susan Shabangu accused Amplats management of keeping the government in the dark and betraying its trust.

The ruling ANC also attacked the restructuring as "cynical and dangerous" and said it justified a review of mining licenses across the industry, which is still largely controlled by South Africa's white minority.

Party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe kept up the pressure this week, telling South African radio that Anglo had "stolen our money" - remarks that helped knock 2 percent off the global mining giant's share price.

However, Zuma made clear that no rash decisions should be taken by either side.

"I don't think we should say either government should make unilateral decisions - for example the licenses - or that companies should have unilateral power to say 'Because our company is in trouble, without consulting anybody, just take action'," he said.

"We are a constitutional democracy. We must engage."

South Africa's mining sector employs 500,000 people and accounts for more than 6 percent of GDP but suffered the worst industrial unrest since apartheid last year, including the police killing of 34 strikers at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine in August.

(Additional reporting by Leon Malherbe; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Jon Herskovitz)