Mining Indaba 2014 – What does it mean for the Western Limb?
Monday 3 February 2014
It felt like coming home.
After some yoga, a swim and a bowl of oats porridge, I make my way down the Mountain to the Foreshore to law firm Webber Wentzel’s harbourfront offices in Convention Towers, right next to the Convention Centre where the Mining Indaba takes place.
I worked at Webber Wentzel from 2002 to 2006 and again for six months in 2008. Walking into their Cape Town offices feels like coming home. Its a top class law firm with soul. They have fantastic people, a can-do attitude, a lot of fun and laughter and an amazing South African art collection. The look and feel of the Cape Town office is very similar to their offices in Illovo, Johannesburg (now spread over three buildings), except that it has 360 degree views of Cape Town and the Atlantic!
Our first interview: of social compacts and existence
After setting up in a meeting room, I have a quick lunch with Peter Leon and Jonathan Veeran (a Webbers Partner and Western Limb team member) and Wesley Timm (a Candidate Attorney in Peter’s team), and then I do the week’s first interview with Peter. Peter does dozens of TV and radio interviews on the South African mining industry, and he speaks very eloquently about Marikana and the challenges faced by the mining industry. You get detail and clarity, things that you don’t often find in the same package.
Two things he says make a big impression on me. First, Peter says that what you have in the Western Limb region is a broken social compact between the stakeholders. It needs to be fixed if we are to create a sustainable legacy from mining in the Western Limb. The second thing is his answer to my question about what would make a difference to the level of communication between the stakeholders. He says that they need to realise that it is an existential question. Literally a question of their existence. Without coming together round the table in a meaningful way, the existence of three of the stakeholders, the state, the unions and mining companies is under threat in the Western Limb region. There is simply no room for a lack of genuine communication.
The sauce that is good for the Goose…
After the interview, I attend a session at Webbers on mining in Zimbabwe, which included Gary McMahon, a mining expert at the World Bank. He gave two of his key messages for how to ensure a shared benefits from mining. I think that both of these are as relevant to the Western Limb as they are to Zimbabwe.
One, focus on procurement, rather than beneficiation. Beneficiation, especially when imposed by regulation, is frequently unprofitable. Its also very power intensive. Perhaps more importantly, it creates very few jobs. On the other hand, mines procure millions of dollars worth of goods and services every year. If more of that money is spent locally , it creates loads of jobs and keeps the money circulating in the area. The thing to work at is at how you get more of that mining money spent locally. Some mining companies in the Western Limn have been doing good work in this regard, like Anglo American’s Zimele initiative.
Two, mines are very infrastructure intensive. Where it makes sense, you can leverage off this infrastructure for use by other investors and reduce costs, both during the life of the mine and post closure. I understand that WeSizwe’s Bakubang Mine’s above ground infrastructure was designed specifically with a view to how it would be used post closure (though changing macroeconomic conditions meant that the full intended vision is unlikely ever to be implemented.)
Corporate and M&A lawyer gets into the grassroots – finds he likes it there
After the Zimbabwe session, I film our second interview with Sipho Methula, a Webber’s corporate and M&A Partner. Sipho was involved in a major corporate transaction by a mining company in the Western Limb, which involving local communities around the mines. The specific objective of the transaction was to ensure a sustainable legacy after the end of mining in the area. How they went about this is fascinating, and Sipho describes it very well in the interview. Keep an eye out for the interview on http://www.youtube.com/westernlimb. However, I will give you a little clue now. It involves A LOT of consultation with the communities about what their priorities are, and reaches the conclusion that proper consultation takes time, but it works.
Eating one’s own Brussels Sprouts – time to hang out
It has been a busy day and I work late into the evening. We have some exciting interviewees in the pipeline this week. Tomorrow we also have our Western Limb vision, mission and strategy session. Meisha Robinson, our Washington D.C based team member will be leading this. This is where we will start to create our vision for the future of the Western Limb, define ourselves and our mission and start to develop our strategy. I am looking forward to it!
As was often the case when I when I worked at Webber Wentzel, I am the very last person to leave the office (though now as then, I was also hardly the first person there). Home again indeed! Stopping off at Macdonalds on Kloof Street on my way back to Oranjzicht, the irony hits me. Here I am, beavering away on a project aimed at creating a thriving community, and I am picking up Macdonalds late at night to eat alone in front of a laptop!
Its time to practice myself what we want to inspire others to do. Its time to make time to connect with people, hang out in Cape Town, find some music, and have some fun!