Even before Covid-19 struck the outlook for exploration and new investment in our industry was less than rosy. South Africa currently sees less than 1% of global exploration spend. Given the importance of exploration to attract new foreign investment to our mining industry, and thus to the economy, we cannot afford to ignore the problem.
It is without a doubt significant that government and Minerals Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe have recognised the importance of this aspect of the mining landscape. Mantashe’s intended target that South Africa grows to attract 3% to 5% of global exploration expenditure over the next five years is very encouraging. Achieving that goal could translate into a meaningful impact, contributing R10-billion to gross domestic product and supporting 27 700 jobs.
It is absolutely critical that government and the industry now collaborate to address existing gaps and [develop] workable solutions. There can be absolutely no justification for any return to the standoff that has existed between us in the past – the damage done to the sector as a result was incalculable. Investors voted with their money and deserted us. Now we [must] compete with our global peers to entice investors into returning.
While an efficient, accessible, transparent and accurate cadastre is critical, establishment of the cadastre alone will not bring about change. That will only come from meaningful regulatory reforms.
More than ever, the mining industry needs to work with government and all other players in our economy to pull the nation out of the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic. We have to acknowledge that it can no longer be ‘business as usual’.
As explorers and developers, we have to make sure that we are doing things differently. It’s time for us to take a leadership role and bring ethical, sustainable business to our, often remote, host communities as well as our employees, adhering to exemplary environmental, social and corporate governance standards. But we need our government to reciprocate, providing a conducive regulatory and operating environment. If we can forge an alliance, we can present a compelling investment case – one that will be rewarded by the return of international investors.
We cannot demand that government meet its obligations to the sector, if we, in our turn, do not do the same for our communities. That alliance, with a common goal, will make all the difference.