Mr. President: Focus on mining and manufacturing

This is not a political column but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that there could be a dawn of a new beginning on the horizon in the short history of democratic South Africa.

Not long after I wrote my last column – ‘How deep does the looting go?’ – the political landscape started to change in South Africa with the resignation (recall??) of the incumbent President of South Africa. Much has been written about the decade of simple disbelief we all endured and many more words will be penned and spoken going forward about this individual who nearly brought this wonderful country to its knees. We have few individuals to thank – the race for the ruling (should read governing) party’s Presidency was only won by new President Cyril Ramaphosa by a few hundred party votes. One shudders to think if the voting had gone the other way and the other candidate had been chosen.

We now have a President who through his career has gained plenty of experience by being on the side of the employees, then changing to become a successful businessman and more recently being involved with politics. He should therefore have a balanced view from all sides and once he has sorted out the internal fighting within his party he can concentrate on taking South Africa forward. The events that have taken place since Ramaphosa’s succession are very encouraging and long may they continue. A complete eradication of corruption, money laundering and racketeering by those in government is obviously the number one priority and those involved should be shown no favours. This might take time but once there is some evidence that Ramaphosa is serious and some high profile individuals are prosecuted there is bound to be a change of culture.

I am calling on the President’s acumen in business and in particular manufacturing. If he is to leave a legacy that will be much appreciated by all South Africans it will be one that has seen a revival in manufacturing. This I believe will go a long way to reducing the number of unemployed which must be one of the highest in the world now and we all know that this is the legacy of the last decade of the ruling, self enriching individual, along with his cronies.

There will be many experts and opinions on how to get the economy going again. The proffered solutions could be endless. But manufacturing and mining has to be on top of the list. We were once revered around the world for our mining contribution and as a result many suppliers flourished and employed many at their manufacturing operations. There is a history of unfavourable working conditions at the mines themselves but these have mostly been sorted out and have come into line with international practices on safety and working conditions.

According to Wikipedia diamond and gold production are now well down from their peaks. Though South Africa ranks as number five in gold production worldwide, we remain a wealth of mineral riches. We are the world’s largest producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium and vermiculite. We are the second largest producer of ilmenite, palladium, rutile and zirconium. We are also the world’s third largest coal exporter. South Africa is also a huge producer of iron ore; In 2012, we overtook India to become the world’s third-biggest iron ore supplier to China, who are the world’s largest consumers of iron ore.

We need to take advantage of these riches again but not just mine them and export them. Give incentives to beneficiate. Give incentives to the manufacturers of equipment and consumables that supply the mines. Give tax breaks to our foundries and machine shops that will have to buy the latest production equipment to manufacture these components and products that are needed. Let them write off this equipment over a short period. Cut out all those middlemen that have sprung up because of what many call unfair business practice laws and only add to the costs.

After all, Mr. President, you only have to look at China to see how manufacturing has benefitted that country and its population.