Diversified metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater has confiscated excavators and front-end loaders being used by illegal chrome miners around its platinum group metals (PGM) operations in Rustenburg. This speaks to the scale of a scourge that CEO Neal Froneman says is spinning ‘out of control’.
Speaking to Business Maverick on the sidelines of the Investing in African Mining Indaba, Neal Froneman was characteristically blunt. Asked about deterrents to investment in South Africa’s mining sector, the first issue that Froneman mentioned was crime.
“Crime has got worse … illegal mining is out of control. I am talking about people arriving with heavy machinery to open pits on our tenements in Rustenburg (chrome). We have confiscated excavators and front-end loaders. The scale has got worse in just the last six months,” Froneman said.
The data for the fourth quarter last year are jaw-dropping.
“There have been brazen attacks on security officers protecting our people and operations, with 60 such attacks in the last quarter and four officers injured,” Froneman said.
In total, 1,939 serious crime incidents were recorded against Sibanye’s mining operations in South Africa during the quarter, to the value of R41-million, with 998 culprits arrested and R17-million recovered.
At the company’s gold operations, 445 illegal miners were arrested in 111 incidents during the last three months of 2022.
“Underground intrusions to steal copper at our PGM operations remain a threat, with 90 culprits arrested in 166 incidents,” Froneman said.
He went on to say that deploying the army to Eskom power stations was a wasted effort, reiterating his call for the military to be brought in for the war on illegal mining.
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“Sibanye has extensive security capability which needs to be supported by security forces when these armed incursions occur. It’s one thing to provide protection for our assets, but those perpetrators need to be repelled and captured by military operations, and then prosecuted and convicted,” he said.
And that’s just the criminal threat to mining investment in South Africa’s collapsing state.
Referring to the surge in load shedding, Froneman said Sibanye estimated the problem meant that 20% to 25% less PGMs were being supplied to the market from South African producers.
On the policy front, Froneman rattled off a few things that are rattling investors.
“Expropriation without compensation is affecting people’s view on assets. Then there’s the employment equity amendment law, the overregulation of transformation. At this juncture, there’s been lots of transformation. We should be putting the focus on commercial issues,” he said.
“We have learnt how to prosper under these conditions. The reason we are able to do it is because there is no competition. If South Africa was open to business, we would not have been able to build our PGM business the way we did. We could not have done it if there was competition.”
But outside investment – and hence competition – in the South African mining sector is being thwarted by the serious challenges Froneman outlined.
No investor wants to stare down the barrel of a gun. DM/BM