Eat and Let's Eat: Change Is Imminent in the South African Mining Industry. A New Minerals Development Bill, Currently in Draft Form, Is Causing Consternation in the Old Power Block. (NA Market/South Africa)

Article excerpt

The South African government took a major step towards redressing t he inequalities and iniquities of the past when it circulated for comment the Draft Mineral Development Bill. Comments were submitted between last December and March this year. The bill is expected to pass into law by the end of this year.

Iris arguably the most important piece of legislation since the first multiracial election in 1994 because it addresses what was the fundamental motivating force behind the dark history of the country, and indeed most of the world's history -- money.

South Africa is the world's largest producer of platinum, gold and chromium. Its other mineral resources include diamonds, uranium, coal, iron ore, phosphates, and manganese. The list is as tall as the Table Mountain.

The country has never been the same since a Griqua herdsman called Swartboy (Black boy, by the colonialists) found an 83-carat diamond now known as the 'Star of Africa" in 1869.

Swartboy took the stone to a Dutch farmer called Schalk Van Niekerk and caclded with great joy when he was given 500 sheep, 10 cattle and one horse. Van Niekerk sold the diamond to agents in HopeTown for [pounds sterling]11,000.

A multiracial diamond rush was soon to follow. The results being that the superior force of the day, Britain, later to be represented by Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes and his Dc Beers company, took control of the land and resources in it.

There followed bitter conflict over these resources by the two white racial groups, the Dutch Afrikaner and the British, culminating in the Anglo/Boer war between 1899 and 1902. They later reconciled to form the Union of South Africa in 1910.

The indigenous people were then further alienated from the wealth through invidious laws restricting them to 13% of barren land, the remaining 87% and its resources therein were reserved for the whites.

They continued to ruthlessly exploit the black man's remaining resource, labour. During the gold and diamond rush, native labour became a barometer of diamond wealth, so laws made by the powers that be confined the natives to barrack-like compounds, and were headed like sheep to the fields and locked up when their work was done. Their families were kept miles away.

This uniquely British model served as a blueprint for the Afrilcaner who perfected the art in 1948 when they came into power. Apartheid was the result.

Under British law in those days, mineral rights were retained by the state. Under Roman Dutch law (the common law imposed on South Africa, and fine-tuned by the Afrikaner), mineral rights were retained by the owner of the land. Having taken 87% of the land by force, it is not difficult to imagine where the money went.

Now the African National Congress wants to correct all that.

The new bill offers 25-year renewable mining rights, with the stated intention of, among other things, promoting local and rural economic development and social upliftment of communities affected by mining.

In pursuance of these objectives, holders of old order rights will be asked to reapply for licences, The granting of a licence has broad ministerial discretion. The existing governing legislation, "The Minerals Act 50 of 1991" only served to consolidate the historically deficient status quo. …