Mining ExpertSpeak: Mauritius is very well-positioned as regional financial hub
Hamlet Morule, Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations executive at South African mining major Wesizwe Platinum, spoke about the ‘social licence’ for mining – an intangible licence to operate that comes up as a result of good community relations. (Image: Cecilia Samoisi)
Hamlet Morule, Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations executive at South African mining major Wesizwe Platinum spoke to AfricaMoney on the sidelines of the Mines and Money Access Africa Summit 2014 held in Mauritius recently. He spoke about the ‘social licence’ for mining – an intangible licence to operate that comes up as a result of good community relations – which helped his firm tide over the difficult period of labour unrest in the South African platinum mining sector. Our mining expert also commented on Mauritius being well-positioned to take on as a regional financial hub.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
What are some of the key achievements of Wesizwe Platinum in the recent past?
Project development is our key area of success. The first achievement that I want to talk about is capital raising. Any project of our size would require any given state to have the surety that the capital outflow will be there in order to ensure that the project gets to a point where it is completed. So, a key achievement that I want to emphasize first of all is last year’s funding transaction with the China Development Bank to the tune of USD 650 million. The second one is moving from the forecast around the development of surface infrastructure within our mining projects, and now, concentrating on ensuring that our shaft-sinking project becomes a success. We are currently busy in the development of two shafts, one the ventilation shaft and the other, our main shaft. And. as we speak, we have surpassed 600 meters on one and we are approaching 500 meters on the other, which demonstrates a fairly a high degree of success.
How has the turmoil in the South African Platinum mining due to labour unrest affected your company in particular and the South African platinum industry in general?
The instability in the sector has impacted on mining in general. Of course, there are losses that have been incurred by employees, besides the social impact that comes along with no-pay during strikes. So, in general, the strike had a significant impact on local economy issues that relate to the mining domain. We at Wesizwe Platinum have not been directly impacted, and I attribute this to the fact that our focus has always been drawing employees from the local community and maintaining good equation with them.
Last June, Wesizwe launched the Whistleblowing campaignto urge the community to blow the whistle on crime, fraud and corruption in the mining sector. Can you tell us more about this campaign and the success it enjoyed?
I would say that, frankly, we did not ‘see’ much success, which in a way, if you are looking at Whistleblowing as an indication of corruption, is a victory. Why? Well, because it means that there is not much corruption as people are not reporting many such incidents! But, it is one of the corporate governance requirements that we thought was appropriate to take up as a company of our size and reputation needs to have a mechanism to allow people to report instances in anonymity, without fear of being identified and facing repercussions.
One of Wesizwe Platinum’s objectives is to provide assurance and governance to manage the impacts of mining. What is the company doing to achieve sustainable development in the mining sector?
The first thing that we are doing really is to try and ensure that we have a partnership with the local host community that is alive and healthy. It is important because we often talk about the social licence to operate in mining even as you may have the legal right to mine, which is issued under the laws in each country. The social licence to operate is usually an intangible licence that comes up as a result of the good relations you have with your community. First of all, it becomes important that we build a strong and healthy relationship with our own community. Secondly, it is crucial that we guard against the environmental degradation. Whatever we do within our mines must not deprive the future generations from enjoying the kind of land that we found and the vegetation growing on it. In order for us to be sustainable, our approach is to create jobs involving the local community as employees and also create opportunities for procurement, co-ownership and skills development.
Speaking of skill development, Wesizwe Platinum is now empowering young people to build their careers in the mining and other sectors through an innovative training and development approach. What is being done to make this initiative a success?
We have embarked on multiple projects that look at skill development. Some projects are at a very basic level, while others are looking at empowering a person to be able to garner entry-level skills. We are anticipating 3,000 employees by 2021 and what we are looking at is actually providing skills development to students in view of bringing them into the sector as soon as they have completed their studies. We are sponsoring mining engineers and geologists. We are focusing on building a pool of expertise within local youth who come from universities or colleges to become employees at Wesizwe.
How can Mauritius best position itself as a gateway for investors seeking to leverage on the mining sector in African countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and Angola, among others?
Mauritius is very well-positioned because of the strategy that the island has adopted, which is to become a financing hub within Africa. Mauritius is a country that is well established when it comes to tourism and it would not be difficult to actually transcend beyond tourism into aqua agriculture as an example of what the island nation wants to do. The proximity that investors see in Mauritius is a sprint boat towards Africa.
Finally, as a Corporate Affairs & Investor Relations Executive at Wesizwe Platinum Ltd, please provide your opinion on the developmental benefits of mining to African economies while improving the environmental and social sustainability record of the mining sector.
This talks to an extent of a number of things that I touched on. The first one that I spoke about was the social licence to operate, which is very relevant. Mining has already been proven to be a catalyst towards economic development of most of the countries. If you look at well-developed economies out there, mining has been quite a robust pillar in ensuring they develop with a strong foundation to build on. And, the same can be said of Africa. The continent still holds 30% of the world resources and, with all these reserves that are still held across Africa, in my point of view at least, these resources must be utilized as a catalyst to improving Africa. We all know that Africa still faces infrastructural challenges. If you look at most of the coastal areas, they are struggling with basic issues, so much economic facilitation remains to be done. Mining in Africa must be done in a way there is no environmental degradation and where there is, it must be started from scratch. The standards that are generally adopted globally should also be applicable to mining undertakings in Africa.
- By Marie-Lorry Coret and Cecilia Samoisi