The South African mining industry will regain its competitiveness as its growth constraints are addressed, the mineral resources department said on Tuesday.
The Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu had been scheduled to address a mining lekgotla in Midrand, but instead her speech was read by Joe Raphela, deputy director-general in her department.
The minister urged delegates to harness the spirit of collaboration which had characterised the transition to democracy.
"We did this democracy thing ourselves. We did not ask outsiders to solve what were our own political problems."
Delegates should work together to outline a joint vision for the industry. Government was addressing the lack of infrastructure which had hampered growth, according to Shabangu.
Efforts were also being made to address the skills shortage. As a result, the industry would regain its competitiveness. It had already moved up in international rankings.
The Fraser Institute's mineral competitiveness index saw South Africa occupying 54th spot out of 93 countries. This was an improvement of 13 places from 2010.
Cabinet's beneficiation policy, approved last year, would create jobs and enable further industrialisation, Shabangu's speech read.
In addition, the department itself was reviewing its internal processes to strengthen capacity. The Minerals and Petroleum Resources and Development Act (MPRDA) and Mine Health and Safety Act would also be reviewed.
Bheki Sibiya, CEO of the Chamber of Mines, noted that mining contributed more than one million jobs to the country.
The industry accounted for 18 percent of GDP and 20 percent of investments, and was a critical earner of foreign exchange.
"South Africa is the most mineral-rich country in the world," he said. "The question we are faced with is, why is it that a South African child goes to bed hungry?"
Neville Nicolau, CEO of Anglo Platinum, said South Africa's lack of competitiveness was a "real problem" given its mineral wealth.
The debate around nationalisation had resulted in a discussion around taxation, so that the country would benefit from the industry's success.
But the real problem, which had led to the call for nationalisation, had not been addressed.
"Unemployed youth is a real social problem that needs to be addressed," he said.
Mining had already created a significant number of jobs.
"If we could employ more people, we would," he said. But both the mining sector and government had employed all the people they could take.
Rather, a solution to job creation could be found in the society in which mining operated. Both social and infrastructure development programmes could create jobs.
South Africa's competitiveness ranking, at 54 out of 93 countries, was a problem given the size of its mineral resources, he said.
Mark Cutifani, CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, said South Africa had the opportunity to have the most significant mining industry in the world, creating 200,000 new jobs.
Mining contributed 11.5 percent of the world's GDP, but if secondary support and services industries were included, this jumped to 21 percent.
The value of the products produced as a result of mining accounted for over 50 percent of global GDP.
In total, 72 different minerals were contained in the iPad device.
"The mining industry makes possible the world as we know it," he said.
Frans Baleni, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, asked whether mineral resources should be considered a curse or a blessing.
The entire country should benefit from the mining industry, including through job creation.
"Unemployment takes away dignity," he said. "The status quo is not sustainable."
Kagiso Mende, director of beneficiation within the mineral resources department, emphasised the value beneficiation would bring to the economy.
Mineral resources could act as a catalyst for development to overcome developmental challenges.
"Having mineral resources does not automatically translate into a downstream sector," he said.
State intervention was needed to address these constraints.
Beneficiation would result in increased research and development, machinery and equipment manufacturing, and economic diversification and jobs, he said.