South Africa Power; Congo Cobalt; Anglo CEO: Mining Update

(Bloomberg) --

South Africa’s power crisis was front and center on the first day of this year’s African Mining Indaba, the continent’s biggest gathering of one of its most vital industries. Climate and sustainability issues were another key theme, including from Anglo American’s CEO, who said the industry must find new, more sustainable ways to supply the world’s raw materials.

Here are the highlights from Monday. (Time stamps are local time in Cape Town.)

Uninvestable Coal (4 p.m.)

The increased focus from investors on environmental issues is likely to help attract more capital for minerals linked to green technology, said John Startin, senior managing director at Evercore Inc.

“The need for these metals to facilitate the energy transition we’re all focused on is undisputed,” Startin said. Attention to social impact and improvements in governance and transparency to fight corruption “are all going to be critical elements to maintaining access to capital markets.”

Coal, meanwhile, is “un-investible,” he said.

Investment Climate (4 p.m.)

South Africa’s government isn’t doing enough to make the country’s mining industry attractive to investors, according to Peter Leon, a partner at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills’s Africa practice.

“You still have this top-down approach to regulation, rather than creating the right enabling environment for mining,” Leon said. The veteran mining lawyer pointed to an ongoing legal dispute over South Africa’s mining charter and a lack of clarity over the criteria for issuing mining licenses as examples of things that still need to be addressed.

Cobalt Monopoly (1 p.m.)

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s new company set up to buy all the country’s hand-mined cobalt will probably start operating by June, said Mines Minister Willy Kitobo Samsoni. The state monopoly is aimed at better regulating small-scale mining and giving Congo an influence on cobalt prices. The government is looking for private partners to help fund the new company, he said.

Read more: Congo Seeks Private Partners for New Cobalt Buying Company

South32 Manganese (12 p.m.)

South32 Ltd. is reviewing options to sell its manganese alloy smelters in South Africa after exiting its coal-mining business in the country, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Fraser.

Like other miners in South Africa, South32’s operations have been hit by frequent power outages, Fraser said. He urged the government to take “hard decisions” to sell lossmaking state-owned enterprises and improve government finances.

Electricity Venture (11:30 a.m.)

South Africa wants to create a new power-generation venture to reduce the nation’s reliance on state utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, said Gwede Mantashe, the mines minister. The venture should ideally be a partnership between the state and private investors, and use a range of technologies, including solar power and clean coal, he told reporters at the Mining Indaba.

He said he’s working on a ministerial determination that will allow companies to generate unlimited power for self-use without a license, but opposes total deregulation of the energy industry.

‘Crisis of Reputation’ (11am)

The mining industry faces a “crisis of reputation,” said Anglo American Plc Chief Executive Officer Mark Cutifani. The industry must do things differently to find new, safer, more sustainable and cost-effective ways to supply the world’s essential raw materials, he said.

“We are still seen as an industry that takes more than it gives,” Cutifani said.

Congo Mining Code (10:30 a.m.)

Democratic Republic of Congo Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba called on all stakeholders to respect the country’s mining code, which has been a source of controversy since its revision in 2018. Miners in Congo like Glencore Plc and Barrick Gold Corp. have fought against higher royalty payments, new taxes, and a change in the stability clause in the code.

Sierra Leone Seeks Patient Investors (9:45 a.m.)

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio said his nation is pulling out all the stops to attract investment. The nation has improved its macroeconomic management, diversified the economy and overhauled and simplified mining laws to clarify companies’ rights and obligations, he said. The government is also improving ports, power supply and telecommunications infrastructure to make it easier for them to operate, he said.

The president said his administration wants a fair and appropriate return on its natural resources, and wants to form long-term relationships with mining companies, but isn’t interested in attracting speculators intent on making a quick buck.

Mantashe on Electricity (9:20 a.m.)

Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s mines minister, is delivering the opening keynote address at the conference. He acknowledged that power shortages are harming the mining industry and says that’s prompted the government to allow mining companies to generate power for self-use without a license.

Mantashe said the government has noted with concern plans by mining companies to fire thousands of workers, and said talks are needed to come up with ways to minimize them. The government is committed to working with investors to enhance policy and regulatory certainty, he said.

Power Projects (8 a.m.)

South African miners have plans for power projects that could generate about 1.5 gigawatts of energy within about nine to 36 months, said Roger Baxter, chief executive officer of the Minerals Council South Africa, the main industry lobby group.

The South African government has said that it accepts that private power generation, particularly for companies’ own use, is an important part of solving the country’s energy crisis, Baxter said.

South Africa Crime (7:45 a.m.)

South Africa’s mining industry has held discussions with the police and the government about addressing “a surge in crime and an unprecedented deterioration in the security situation facing the South African mining sector,” Baxter said.

“We are engaging with the police and others to make sure we deal with this organized crime issue,” he said. “We need urgent action from government.”

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