Platinum mining giant says South Africa running out of time

Driefontein gold mine. (Image courtesy of Sibanye-Stillwater.)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa may be running out of time to enact the reforms required to attract significant investments in the country’s mining industry.

That’s the fear expressed by Sibanye Gold Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman, who prefers to look at opportunities in West Africa, the Americas and Australia. The risks of doing business in his home country will increase should weak economic growth and ballooning government debt be compounded by the loss of South Africa’s last investment-grade credit rating, he said.

“There has been a distinct lack of turnaround, if anything we have gone backward,” Froneman said in an interview before executives gather in Cape Town on Monday for Africa’s biggest mining conference. “To be clear and blunt, he also hasn’t made some of the difficult decisions and we are hurtling into a debt trap.”

Ramaphosa came to office two years ago determined to tackle corruption and revitalize Africa’s most industrialized economy, which has languished after almost a decade of mismanagement under his predecessor Jacob Zuma. Moody’s Investors Service, the last company to rate the nation’s debt at investment grade, said last week that it’s “a bit early” to judge the government’s policy and structural reforms.

The government has started rebuilding institutions damaged over the past 10 years, while initiatives on easing immigration rules, releasing new broadband spectrum and finalizing mining regulations will take time to boost investment, according to Khusela Diko, a spokeswoman for Ramaphosa.

“It is not realistic to expect these interventions to yield immediate results,” she said. “Government is confident however these reforms will have a measurable impact on growth and jobs as they take root.”

While South Africa’s platinum producers have benefited from a surge in metal prices, mining investors are being deterred by regulatory uncertainty and power shortages, Froneman said. Sibanye, the country’s largest private sector employer and world’s No. 1 platinum miner, is considering investments in gold and battery metals, but those will be elsewhere, said Froneman.

“We don’t see growth opportunities here, so we have to think outside of South Africa,” he said.

Businesses are concerned about a sense of “paralysis” in the government and the policy splits within the ruling African National Congress, even as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni sets the right tone for boosting growth, he said.

“I understand there are factions in the ANC, but it’s time government acted in the national interest and not in the interest of one party,” Froneman said. “Government knows what the answers are.”

(By Felix Njini)

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