Address by President Nelson Mandela at 104th Annual General Meeting of Chamber of Mines of South Africa

8 November 1994

President of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa,
Members of the Chamber,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Among the events which have taken place since our democratic elections, this 104th Annual General Meeting of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa occupies a special niche. South Africa is blessed with an exceptional geological heritage. As such the mining industry has been the bedrock of the South African economy for more than a century.

Today the industry operates in a radically changed environment. Democracy in South Africa has brought new social priorities. It has brought peace with our neighbours. It has exposed our country to the forces of the global economy which is offering new opportunities and challenges, on a larger scale than ever before. We are, consequently, called upon to find a dynamic vision and strategy which will give mining as significant a role in the future as it has had in the past.

I therefore thank you most sincerely for the honour of being present at this meeting and for the opportunity to address you.

The achievements of the mining industry and its contribution to our economy are truly remarkable. A crucial foreign exchange earner and a substantial contributor to economic production, it remains a leading employer, second only to agriculture, and a leader in the field of scientific and technological research.

Mining generates further economic activity. For every three people employed on a mine, one is employed in industries which serve the mining industry, either directly or indirectly. Many of our towns, and indeed the massive concentration of economic activity in the PWV, would not exist but for our geological heritage. The impact of the industry is felt in more ways than one on the sub-continent as a whole.

Scientifically and technologically the mining sector, together with the scientific councils which serve it, Mintek, the Council for Geoscience and the CSIR, have built an international reputation without equal.

Yet such is our past, that an industry which can boast such achievements because of its centrality to our economy, must also feature some of the worst of our society. It is the irony of our history that the spectacular developments were built on a labour system that was not only unjust but also earned our country notoriety throughout the world. The mining industry's impressive technological achievements still confront archaic social conditions, and a work-force built on a low-skills base and largely confined by illiteracy.

I do appreciate that efforts have been made to address these matters. They are to be commended. But I do not think that any one would claim that more than a start has been made in eradicating these profound problems.

Mr Chairman,

The South African mining industry is entering a new and exciting era. It has the opportunity to deal with the new challenges in conditions that allow it to draw on the skills, the imagination and the determination of all.

The pressures faced by mining are not unique. But internal and international factors combine in the industry's case with particular intensity and urgency.

Firstly, increased productivity will be needed to cope with growing competition from producers in other countries.

The start which the industry is making to the introduction of more flexible work practices is vital. This should help develop increased career opportunities for miners, so that the skills and innovative potential which have been held back can be released to benefit the industry and the nation.

Secondly, promotion of exports is essential in a fiercely competitive international market, if the outstanding record of the industry is to be maintained and improved. The importance of beneficiation of minerals, as a sorely-needed injection for the South African economy, is widely recognised and great progress has been made in this regard. But it will require effort and imagination to reach the optimum level.

Thirdly, increased investment is needed to maintain and expand our mining, mineral processing and manufacturing capacity. The mining industry has already signalled its intention of maintaining its role as an important contributor to the national economy by increasing its investment base -- one-fifth of the expected capital expenditure on major projects up to the year 2000 will be spent by the mining industry.

Lastly, science and technology need to be exploited to the full, in pursuing these objectives. The partnership between the mining industry and the scientific councils needs strengthening. Our massive scientific and technological assets are also ideally placed to contribute to transforming Southern Africa's large regional mining resource base into a dynamic economic sector.

Mr Chairman,

These far-reaching and complex objectives are not ones which those represented by your chamber could be expected to achieve alone.

Your agreements with the unions to initiate a Health and Safety Commission and to launch a basic adult education training programme, as well as your proposals to secure relief for workers on retrenchment benefits, demonstrate the benefits for the industry which come from co-operation in a common forum. Thus we shall be able to reverse such terrible trends as the increase last year in the number of workers who died in the mining industry, from 552 to 578.

Such a forum representing the key stakeholders --companieseoenorn -- could make a critical contribution to the shaping of an effective industrial policy; a policy which will help develop and expand the mining industry to the benefit of the country as a whole. It is in the interests of stability and investor confidence that the healthy and necessary debate on such a policy should soon find its way to consensus.

A partnership of this kind within the mining industry would be an aspect of the larger partnership of all social structures which is essential to the success of the Reconstruction and Development Programme.

The mining industry, by virtue of the place it occupies in our economy, is in a position to make a special contribution to the transformation of our society, which should have as its central objective, improving the quality of life of all its citizens.

I wish to assure you that the government will play its part. The government, and particularly the ministry, will work to ensure the creation of an environment for growth and sustainable developent of the industry. We are also committed to developing a national strategy for coping with the social consequences of the inevitable closure of mines which loose their financial viability.

More broadly, the government has made clear its commitment to fiscal discipline and to creating an environment in which business can thrive. Its determination to carry these measures through will be evident in the recently announced measures to restructure government finances. We hope that the mining industry would also send a powerful message to everyone in our society that the resources of our nation, under whatever form of ownership, will be stewarded with a regard for the urgent need to uplift particularly the most disadvantaged of our society. This would be no empty gesture but an action which would have important and beneficial consequences for the nation.

Mr Chairman,

I am confident that your industry will remain robust, energetic and as innovative as ever. You have the capacity not only to be a reliable economic generator for South Africa and the region as a whole, but also to contribute to the building of a society freed from the faults and fissures which marred our past. I wish you well in your deliberations, as you grapple with the challenges which face you and the nation.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation