Mining in South Africa has entered a new era, Gold Fields chairperson Mamphela Ramphele said on Wednesday.
"We have to accept that the traditional way of mining in SA, with its reliance on cheap and low-skilled labour, is over. You better get used to it. It is not sustainable," she told Mining Indaba delegates in Cape Town.
"The tragic events of Marikana and protests by agriculture sector workers... are a wake-up call, alerting SA to the many time-bombs waiting to go off."
Ramphele was referring to a strike at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, North West, in August last year.
Thirty-four mineworkers were shot dead and 78 wounded when police opened fire while trying to disperse a group of protesters gathered on a hill near the mine.In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed.
She was also referring to violent protests by striking farmworkers in the Western Cape for a R150 a day minimum wage.
Ramphele said these incidents were the "legacy of the past" coming home to haunt the country.
Mining revenues were not being shared equitably.
"For the most, mining tax revenues vanish in the black hole that is the central fiscus and end up becoming large rural estates for presidents," she said.
Turnaround was possible, if industry leaders engaged in what Ramphele called difficult conversations.
"We often avoid difficult conversations because we believe the business of business, as one CEO told me, is to make money regardless of the socio-political environment."
She said three key issues would need to be addressed; how to build a mine that insured benefits and risks were shared more equitably; how to deal with the effects of mine operations; and what needed to change in the paradigm of sustainable mining.