Nationalising South Africa’s mines as proposed by the ANC’s Youth League is a reckless, ill-conceived idea that will not come to fruition, the head of the country’s biggest union said.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana also questioned the motive of Youth League leader Julius Malema, whose fiery talk in the last year of taking over the mines has rattled investors in Africa’s biggest economy.
Zokwana said the push for state ownership appeared to benefit some of South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) elite who see it as an easy way to grab mining assets or be bailed out of failing ventures, reports Reuters.
“You’ve had some black voices within the BEE supporting the debate,” Zokwana told Reuters in an interview in the quarter-million-member union’s plush offices in downtown Johannesburg.
“It may be that this Youth League is being funded or encouraged by certain people who believe that when the state takes over, it will be an easier way for them to take over and run those companies,” he said.
“Or it may be that some guys are swimming deep in debt so much that they want to be salvaged through the state taking over and bailing them out.”
Since Malema’s calls for nationalisation, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has embarked on a debate on the issue, including the appointment this week of two researchers to look into successful models of state involvement in the sector.
Zokwana criticised the ANC, saying it had allowed outsiders to gain the impression of a government on the cusp of radical intervention when the reality was probably far from the case.
“I believe that there’s no threat to any investor,” he said. “It will be debated in 2012 informed by this research, and in our view if you ask me, I don’t think that view will fly given the facts at our disposal.”
Public-private mining partnerships similar to those between diamond firm De Beers and the governments of neighbouring Botswana and Namibia might be workable, Zokwana said.
But the NUM, a social and political force, would counter any policy that might damage a sector that accounts for nearly 9 percent of GDP, employs half a million people and is central to the government’s long-term plans to tackle chronic unemployment.
The NUM and the Youth League are breeding grounds for leaders in the ANC and analysts have said the debate on nationalisation has been more about jockeying for political power in the ruling party than shaping economic policy.
“The union has been at the receiving end of the Youth League of the ANC for standing and saying: ‘Don’t come with uncooked resolutions or proposals. These reckless statements that you are making pose a threat to the industry,'” he said, drawing a comparison to Zimbabwe’s economic collapse a decade ago.
“There’s an interest for us as a union to defend not because we’re defending the owner but because we’re defending ourselves. You can’t find unions where there’s no employment.”