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Rejuvenating South Africa's economy - The role of the mining sector

Copyright © 2022 Inclusive Society Institute 50 Long Street Cape Town, 8000 South Africa 235-515 NPO All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the permission in writing from the Inclusive Society Institute DISCLAIMER Views expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the views of the Inclusive Society Institute or those of their respective Board or Council members. All records and findings included in this report, originate from a panel discussion on developing a new economic blueprint for South Africa, which took place in November 2021 Author: Mariaan Webb Editor: Daryl Swanepoel


Abbreviations & acronyms


Identifying weaknesses

  • Electricity tariffs and supply

  • Infrastructure shortcomings

  • Labour and community relations

  • Localisation and black empowerment

  • Mining narrative

  • Planning and implementation gap

  • Policy and regulatory uncertainty

  • Slow on innovation

  • Weak government

Suggestions for fostering growth



Abbreviations & acronyms

BEE black economic empowerment

GDP gross domestic product

ISI Inclusive Society Institute

PGM platinum-group metals


South Africa is one of the world’s leading mining and mineral-processing nations. The country has the world’s biggest reserves of platinum-group metals (PGMs) and manganese, and is ranked among the top three countries for chromium, fluorspar, gold, vermiculite and zirconium reserves (Minerals Council, 2021a).

For many years, mining has been the mainstay of the South African economy and the industry continues to be a valuable contributor. In 2020, mining added 8.40%, or R371.90-billion in nominal terms, to gross domestic product (GDP). Mining also provides the single greatest part of South Africa’s export revenues and employs directly, and indirectly, more people than any other comparable sector. The industry in 2020 provided direct employment to more than 452 000 people, which is 4.70% of the total formal nonagricultural employment (Minerals Council, 2021a).

As a major exporter that competes with international players, South Africa must be competitive if it is to realise the true potential of its rich resource endowment. However, regulatory uncertainty, unreliable power supply, high electricity tariffs and rail and logistical shortcomings continue to negatively affect the sector, holding back investment and limiting its contribution to economic growth and development.

This report by the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) is a summary of themes that emerged from virtual discussions, held in November 2021, with participants from the mining industry to gather their views on what South Africa must do to remove constraints to economic growth and development. The report also puts forward suggestions on what can be done to accelerate GDP growth.

The report is one in a series of ISI reports, which forms part of a broader research project to develop a New Economic Blueprint for South Africa. Discussions were also held with other sectors, including finance, manufacturing, construction, information communication and technology, and retail to canvass their opinions as part of the broader research project.

Unless South Africa achieves much higher levels of economic growth for a sustained period, the country’s economic and social problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment will not be resolved.

Identifying weaknesses

Electricity tariffs and supply

Electricity tariff increases since the onset of the power crisis in 2008 have been significantly above inflation levels, with a doubling in real prices from 2008 to 2012 and a further increase of 25% above inflation from 2012 to 2016 (Minnaar, 2021). Power utility Eskom argues that the pricing regime does not meet the requirements for cost-effectivity at an efficient operational level, but customers are concerned about affordability in relation to other countries.

Above-inflation tariff increases have a substantial impact on the mining industry’s cost structure, jeopardising the viability of marginal and lossmaking mines and threatening to accelerate job losses at energy-intensive mines. In 2021, mining input cost inflation averaged 8.80%, but this will increase to 13.30% should Eskom’s latest requested tariff increases for 2022/23 to 2024/25 be approved (Langenhoven, 2022).

The Minerals Council argues that the mining sector is a price taker and cannot influence selling prices. Therefore, cost increases erode profit margins and jeopardise the sustainability of the sector.

The mining industry has also called for a more predictable price path for electricity.

While Eskom will continue to supply the bulk of the mining sector’s power needs for some time, Minerals Council member companies have announced a pipeline of 3 900 MW of potential renewable-energy projects worth more than R60-billion that would, when implemented, substantially contribute to bridging the large country electricity supply deficit, diversify the country’s supply, reduce the sector’s carbon footprint and stabilise costs (Mining Weekly, 2021).

Infrastructure shortcomings

The mining industry has singled out logistics as one of its biggest domestic constraints, particularly for those companies producing bulk commodities, like iron-ore, coal, chrome and manganese. These firms have been unable to benefit from higher global commodity prices, in some instances record prices, because of rail and port inefficiencies. State-owned Transnet’s rail system faces major impediments stemming from high levels of theft and vandalism, among other operational challenges. The parastatal loses about 120 km of overhead cables a month, owing to criminality. Security incidents across the freight rail network have increased 177% in the past five years and the cost to Transnet and its customers has increased exponentially (Transnet, 2021).

Africa’s top iron-ore producer, Kumba Iron Ore, has said that it cannot transport its premium steelmaking material from the mines in the Northern Cape to the Port of Saldanha on the West Coast, because of rail bottlenecks, costing the company billions of rand in lost revenue. Logistical issues also affect the movement of coal, with major producers Exxaro Resources and Thungela Resources having flagging concerns about rail shortcomings. The Richards Bay Coal Terminal last year exported its lowest volume of coal since 1996, owing to an inability to get coal from the mines to the export terminal, in KwaZulu-Natal.

The rate mining companies are charged for rail services is also deemed to be uncompetitive.

As mining companies are not the owners or operators of the rail services, it is difficult to influence Transnet to be more productive, innovative or to introduce better technology. In many other countries, private companies own or partially own the infrastructure in the logistics value chain. More private-sector involvement in rail and port logistics is considered a key enabler that can make South Africa more competitive.

Plans are afoot for more private participation in logistics. Government is promoting greater private-sector participation in rail, including through granting third-party access to the core rail network and the revitalisation of branch lines. A major ports reform is also under way.

Labour and community relations

A stable labour workforce and sound community relations are key enablers in making mining companies globally competitive. Without stable relationships, the industry will not produce the tons that are required to compete on a global level. Civil society has a role to play in levelling the playing field between labour and mining companies. However, the mining industry is perceived as being too defensive in its interactions with civil society.

Localisation and black empowerment

Localisation, procurement and broad-based black economic empowerment (BEE) can be burdensome on the industry, when sufficient capacity does not exist in the value chain of smaller players. The Mining Charter requires that 44% of the total procurement budget be spent on South African manufactured goods by BEE-compliant companies, 21% on South African goods manufactured by black entrepreneurs and 5% on goods manufactured by BEE women entrepreneurs or youth-controlled companies. In respect of services, even higher percentages are set for procurement from majority black-owned suppliers. The Mining Charter provides that 60% of the total services must be procured from BEE entrepreneurs, 10% is to be procured from BEE-compliant companies and 10% from BEE women entrepreneurs or youth-owned companies (Department of Mineral Resources, 2018).

Mining narrative

The tone from politicians, some senior State officials and communities is one that is not always supportive of the mining industry, with a narrative that mining is the ‘big evil’. These messages sow mistrust and negatively affect investment appetite.

Planning and implementation gap

South Africa seems to be stuck in a phase of ongoing planning, often without much progress on the implementation front. This could be owing to a lack of political backing for certain plans or owing to a shortage of people with the necessary skill, professionalism and capabilities to implement plans. The private sector feels its assistance, offering specialists skills through secondments, is met with an unwelcoming attitude.

Policy and regulatory uncertainty

South Africa must address policy and regulatory uncertainty if it is to attract more investment in exploration and mining. South Africa attracted $194-million a year in exploration expenditure between 2000 and 2018, compared with Canada’s $2-billion a year and Australia’s $1.80-billion a year (Baxter, 2021).

The Canadian public policy research organisation, the Fraser Institute, in its 2020 Survey of Mining Companies, released in early 2021, shows a regression in perceptions relating to South Africa as a mining investment destination. South Africa ranked sixtieth out of 77 jurisdictions for investment attractiveness and its attractiveness score worsened from 64.79 in 2019, to 56.33 in 2020 (Yunis & Aliakbari, 2021). In comparison, Botswana has been the top-ranking African country in the Fraser Institute survey for more than 20 years. In 2020, Botswana was the eleventh most attractive jurisdiction in the world for mining investment, with an investment attractiveness score of 81.48 (Yunis & Aliakbari, 2021). Minerals Council South Africa CEO Roger Baxter attributes Botswana’s success to the stability of its regulatory system. He notes that Botswana changed its Mines and Minerals Act in 1999 and has left it untouched since then. By comparison, South Africa has sought to implement an ongoing sequence of major changes to its mining laws and policy frameworks over the past 25 years.

Botswana’s mining and prospecting rights application processes are also more streamlined than South Africa’s. In Botswana it takes 20 days to get a mining right for a major project and 40 days for a prospecting right. It takes vastly longer in South Africa to obtain the same licences. In South Africa, to secure a mining right takes on average 355 working days and a prospecting right 245 working days (Minerals Council, 2021b).

Unresolved licensing applications currently hold back about R30-billion of committed investment by companies that cannot be spent, owing to red tape, including delays in approval of permits and mining right transfers, issuing of water-use licences and environmental permits (Baxter, 2021).

Mining companies have difficulty explaining to shareholders, credit agencies and investors what the future of investment in South Africa holds, when the regulatory framework is not stable. At times the mining regulations, and the bodies empowered to implement them, are experienced as punitive and combative, rather than as collaborative.

Slow on innovation

South African mining urgently needs innovation. Over the past decade, multifactor productivity in South Africa, an indicator of innovation, has fallen by 7.60% (Baxter, 2021). The local industry is lagging its competitors when it comes to innovation. The mining industries of Australia and the Americas are at the forefront of, or leading, the charge in making their mines safer. They are introducing technology to get to deeper ores that using older technologies are not currently accessible at an economic rate. This is particularly important for South Africa, which has some of the world’s deepest mines. South Africa is not implementing policies, or support measures, to allow for productivity-enhancing measures to be introduced into its mines. Government is not clear on what its social strategy is with regard to innovation and technology, and how the country is going to adapt to it.

Weak government

The weakness of State entities and the failing of local and provincial governments are areas of concern for the industry. When the State fails to provide services, mining companies are forced to take on the role of ‘surrogate State’ as near-mine communities often expect private businesses to pick up the slack and provide housing and related services. This can result in tension between the industry and communities.

Suggestions for fostering growth


South Africa has vast mineral resources – estimated to be worth $2.50-trillion – but unless the country manages to attract investment in exploration and mining, its minerals are going to stay in the ground. Providing certainty of policy and a predictable regulatory environment could speed up investment, which will drive up inclusive economic growth and much-needed employment creation.

Improving the global competitiveness of South Africa would change the country’s economic growth trajectory. Modernising the economy, including the mining sector, will be key to achieving this goal and will require a new approach to technology and innovation. Partnering with the private sector will help the country be more competitive, and will unlock greater private-sector investment required in core infrastructure such as railways, harbours and electricity. To encourage private-sector participation, the country must continue to implement long-awaited structural reforms.

In an environment often characterised by talk, rather than action, it is time for the country to roll up its sleeves and get things moving to create an investment framework that is conducive for investors to commit to South Africa. At the same time, the mining industry must seek buy-in from all stakeholders and be more vocal about the consequences of a scenario in which South Africa fails to encourage more resources investment.


Baxter, R. 2021. Address to the 2021 Minerals Council Annual General Meeting, May 26, 2021. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

Bloomberg News. 2021. Coal and iron pile up in South Africa on rail constraints, October 21, 2021. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

Department of Mineral Resources. 2018. Draft broad-based socioeconomic empowerment charter for the mining and minerals industry, June 15, 2018. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

Langenhoven, H. 2022. MYPD5 – Nersa public hearings, January 21, 2022. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

Minerals Council South Africa. 2021a. Facts and Figures 2020, October 14, 2021. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

Minerals Council South Africa. 2021b. Integrated Annual Report 2020, May 26, 2021. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

Mining Weekly. 2021. Minerals Council members could deliver up to 3 900 MW of supplementary electricity supply, November 23, 2021. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 24, 2022].

Mining Weekly. 2021. South Africa’s RBCT exports lowest coal tonnages since 1996, January 25, 2022. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 25, 2022].

Minnaar, U. 2021. Energize: A brief perspective on Eskom’s electricity tariffs, September 27, 2021. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

Transnet. 2021. Media statement: Transnet continues to implement interventions to curb cable theft, June 10, 2021. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2023].

Yunis, J. & Aliakbari, E. 2021. Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies, 2020. [Online]. Available at: [accessed January 23, 2022].

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This report has been published by the Inclusive Society Institute

The Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) is an autonomous and independent institution that functions independently from any other entity. It is founded for the purpose of supporting and further deepening multi-party democracy. The ISI’s work is motivated by its desire to achieve non-racialism, non-sexism, social justice and cohesion, economic development and equality in South Africa, through a value system that embodies the social and national democratic principles associated with a developmental state. It recognises that a well-functioning democracy requires well-functioning political formations that are suitably equipped and capacitated. It further acknowledges that South Africa is inextricably linked to the ever transforming and interdependent global world, which necessitates international and multilateral cooperation. As such, the ISI also seeks to achieve its ideals at a global level through cooperation with like-minded parties and organs of civil society who share its basic values. In South Africa, ISI’s ideological positioning is aligned with that of the current ruling party and others in broader society with similar ideals.

Phone: +27 (0) 21 201 1589



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