Did a mining minister really set out to hobble the industry?
The testimony of Thibedi Ramontja, the former director-general of the department of mineral resources, touched on an element that had been a mark of the former mine minister’s tenure – safety stoppages.
During the two-years Mosebenzi Zwane was mineral resources minister there was a feeling among mining companies that regulations had been effectively “weaponised” to punish or cow the industry. The most obvious example was the ordering of safety stoppages of entire mines, sometimes on spurious reasons, and lengthy safety audits taking up management time and detracting from the business of mining.
Ramontja told the state capture commission that he’d heard from the chief inspector of mines that Zwane’s advisors were telling him which mines to inspect, something that Ramontja and previous minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi had never countenanced doing.
While it is hearsay and a subject that nobody at the commission explored with Ramontja, it does give an insight into industry concerns that the safety regulations were being used not only as a mechanism to make the country’s mines safer but to punish some companies.
Zwane had and has untested claims of inappropriate relations with the Guptas and he played a key role in persuading Glencore to sell Optimum to Tegeta after a two-day visit to Zurich with the Gupta family to meet Glencore’s CEO Ivan Glasenberg.
What the industry can do with Ramontja’s testimony is now up for debate. It will need the chief inspector of mines to come forward and explain whether Zwane’s three advisers, all linked to the Guptas, did indeed pressure him and his team into inspecting certain mines and what the outcomes were, if there were frivolous stoppages and interference. If the regulator used its position to unduly punish or lean on mining companies it could become the platform for a serious civil action against the department.