JOHANNESBURG – South Africa, the world’s largest producer of platinum, replaced its mineral resources minister amid planned layoffs by miners and a commodity-price slump.
Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane will succeed Ngoako Ramathlodi, who has become the Public Service and Administration minister, the presidency said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. Mr Zwane, a former official of the Free State provincial government in departments ranging from economics to agriculture, was expected to be sworn in yesterday in Pretoria, the capital, it said.
According to Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) President Joseph Mathunjwa, the removal of Mr Ramatlhodi from the Mineral Resources department was done because he took a tough stance against mining companies on black economic empowerment.
“We feel very strongly that the president should have left Ramatlhodi until 2016 who’s been challenging the compliance of companies. This makes us wonder whether this was not a political change,” said Mr Mathunjwa, whose AMCU is the biggest labour organisation in platinum.
“One cannot slam the door in his (Mr Zwane) face, but the point is he has no track record. He has only been on a provincial platform. Mining is another terrain, it needs a person with a thick skin.”
South Africa is the world’s largest producer of manganese and the largest gold exporter on the continent. Plunging commodity prices are adding pressure on an industry struggling with regulatory changes and unreliable power supplies, and some of the country’s biggest miners are threatening to cut jobs.
Mr Ramathlodi, appointed in May 2014 during a five-month strike that halted most operations of the world’s three biggest platinum producers, “showed mining companies that he is a custodian of our minerals,” and sought to include AMCU in negotiations, Mr Mathunjwa said.
Mining accounts for more than half of the nation’s exports and employs about 440, 00 people, a critical source of jobs in a nation with a 25 percent unemployment rate.
Mr Zwane’s appointment may “create anxiety among investors because he comes as an unknown quantity,” Somadoda Fikeni, an analyst at the University of South Africa, said by phone. “The current challenges in the mining industry need someone with clout and political influence. Someone who does not have a high profile and is not a heavyweight, able to influence people in government and cabinet may bring grave concern.”
Mr Ramatlhodi spearheaded a plan to split legislation governing the nascent oil and gas industry from mining laws, a move welcomed by the Chamber of Mines.
“Notwithstanding the tough conversations we found it necessary to have with each other at times, we always appreciated Minister Ramatlhodi’s openness to these frank conversations,” Chamber Chief Executive Officer Roger Baxter said in a statement.
National Union of Mineworkers General Secretary David Sipunzi has “no complaints” about Zwane’s appointment even though he isn’t known by the industry, he said by phone. Ramathlodi’s “overall performance was commendable,” he said. – Bloomberg.