By LISA STEYN
The theme of the 26th Investing in African Mining Indaba is “optimising growth and investment in the digitised mining economy”, but on Monday, as the conference started, the words on everyone’s lips were load-shedding.
As delegates from far and wide made their way into the venue, a welcome pack included a nifty self-charging torch, courtesy of Anglo American, serving as a not-so-subtle reminder that in SA, the land of power cuts, such a device will come in handy.
That’s especially true now that load-shedding has resumed in earnest and is likely to continue, as was communicated by new Eskom CEO André de Ruyter at his first state of the system briefing on Friday.
Mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe gave the opening address at the indaba, and was unusually quick to address the question on everybody’s mind: how can you begin to talk about optimising growth and investment in SA when you can’t provide the mining industry with a stable supply of power?
Sporting a black, green and gold tie, Mantashe acknowledged power cuts were affecting mining production and, in turn, economic growth.
“This reality forced us to take serious decisions. That is why we have agreed that because of problems of energy, we must allow our mining companies to generate energy for self-use. You don’t need a licence for that — you just register and you run ahead,” he said.
Then the bombshell: “Secondly, we have taken a decision we will talk to investors to start a generating company outside of Eskom.
“That is a security measure. As Eskom is grappling with all the crises and problems, we must have a fail-safe option for delivering energy.”
Mantashe also hopes that introducing competition into the sector could result in a surplus of energy, which would push down electricity prices.
“If electricity is expensive the economy is deindustrialising,” Mantashe said.
It is. And it has been for a long time.
Mantashe’s mooted drastic action is something the industry has been waiting for. But let’s hope the fighting talk comes with some follow-through, and quickly.