7 September 2010
The narrow black economic empowerment focus has “set back” South Africa’s critical mining sector, SA Communist Party deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin said on Tuesday.
“The big nationalisation has already happened and it was nationalisation of the resources…the state was made custodian of that resources on behalf of SA’s people.
“On the face of it this was a major step forward but in my view this important advancement was seriously compromised from the very start,” said Cronin addressing the Mining for Change conference in Sandton.
“… What began to trump all else, and this is the elephant in the room, was the 15 percent equity stake, a target for 2009 rising to 26 percent, that’s the target, the BEE target by 2014.
“This has introduced many anomalies; you just have to open the newspapers in the last few weeks to get a sense of the enormous anomalies this has introduced.”
Cronin said billions of rands in public money was spent on driving this “narrow BEE requirement”.
He argued that the “potential leverage” for the state in trying to meet its socio-economic demands by using the country’s mineral resources was “squandered”.
“This narrow BEE focus has actually set back this critical sector. Key strategic goals…is to place our economy onto a new growth path which is… equitable in its outcomes. But these tended to get sidelined with this BEE focus.”
He added that those with political connections and their friends and families largely benefited from this narrow BEE.
Cronin maintained that he was not opposed to BEE “in the real sense of the word” but it had to include the empowerment of the “great majority” of South Africa.
At the end of 2009, a new dynamic was introduced – the ANC Youth League’s public push for the nationalisation of mines, The debate has been “eclectic” and the league’s position had changed over time.
“There’s even been a degree of populism,” he said.
Citing an example of this he quoted ANCYL president Julius Malema who said: “Today these diamonds are so bright, they are colourful. We refer to them as white people, maybe this colour comes as a result of exploiting our minerals.
“Perhaps if some of us could get the opportunities of these minerals we will also develop a nice colour and look like them.”
Cronin then quipped: “I’m not sure if this is a progressive agenda or envy of the lifestyles of white capitalists.”
He added that he had not heard any similar sentiments from Malema on Tuesday, when he addressed the conference.
There was a “scholastic debate” in the ANC about what the meaning of the Freedom Charter – which Malema charges stipulates that the mines had to be nationalised.
The left, Cronin said, largely supported nationalisation “in principle”.
“Some elements on the more centre side of the political spectrum mainly some black junior mining houses, some not so junior, have supported some form of nationalisation.
“In the midst of the global recession… some of the BEE but not just BEE but some of the mainstream mining houses were lobbying government and some of us as well to consider some kind of nationalisation as a bailout.
“In short the debate around nationalisation has been quite confused, often very acrimonious, I’m not sure how helpful [its been].”
Earlier, Malema had argued that to leverage South Africa’s wealth of mineral resources for the benefit of the people, nationalisation was needed to boost state coffers to provide services.
However, Cronin said entering a discussion on how to leverage the country’s resources through a debate on nationalisation was “unhelpful”.
“Its far too narrow a doorway in which to enter into this important national discussion that we must have. Need to have serious discussion about how to leverage mining to benefit the SA people.”
Cronin and Malema have markedly different views on nationalisation and have clashed publicly about the issue in the past.
In the audience as Cronin addressed the conference, were the ANCYL’s communication team and national executive committee members, Floyd Shivambu and Magdalene Moonsamy. – Sapa