CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A third of South Africa’s largest mining companies are not considering any new investments in the sector in 2018 while one of them may even decide to pull out of the country, according to an industry survey published by the Chamber of Mines on Monday.
The mining sector in the world’s top platinum producer has in recent years been laid low by soaring wage and power costs, depressed prices, violent social and labor unrest as well as policy uncertainties.
Underscoring the tough environment, the industry has shed 70,000 jobs in the past five years, with around 465,000 currently employed.
The survey of 16 companies accounting for more than 80 percent of national mining output included all of the big players such as Anglo American and Sibanye-Stillwater.
“Some specific company responses were particularly sobering,” the chamber said in a presentation at the Africa mining conference in Cape Town.
“Five companies responded that they were not considering any potential new investments, with one company contemplating from divesting from South Africa entirely - a decision which will be taken in 2018, if the situation does not improve,” it said.
Norman Mbazima, the deputy chairman of Anglo American South Africa, told the conference that regulatory uncertainties were hobbling the allocation of capital.
“The relationship between the Department of Mineral Resources and the industry is at an all-time low ... we cannot underestimate the negative effects of poor and inconsistent regulation,” he said.
The industry is locked in a number of court battles with the department.
Sources of contention include government revisions to an industry charter to raise the required level of black ownership to 30 percent from 26 percent and other new rules that companies say are too onerous.
Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane made no mention in a speech of the numerous disputes between his department and the industry, which says it will only deal with him through the courts.
“We will not engage directly with Zwane anymore,” Neal Froneman, chief executive of precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater, told Reuters.
Peter Leon, a mining lawyer with Herbert Smith Freehills, said Zwane failed to mention how he would address regulatory concerns in South Africa’s struggling mining industry in a speech on Monday.
“Unless the government urgently implements measures to address the issues deterring investors, South Africa will – once again – fail to capitalize on any new commodities boom,” Leon said.
But Anglo American’s Mbazima said the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December was a “significant ‘first step’ toward stabilizing the political dynamics in our country.”
President Jacob Zuma, whose administration has been marked by misgovernance and widespread allegations of corruption, has been under pressure to step down as head of state ever since the election of Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist and business tycoon who is highly regarded by investors.
(This version of the story has been refiled to add dropped word in name of law firm in paragraph 13)
Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Louise Heavens and Kirsten Donovan