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De Beers' exodus to Botswana a hefty price to pay for irresponsible, poor and visionless leadership

Opinion piece by Koos Bezuidenhout, Chief Executive Officer of UASA, the second largest mining union in South Africa.

De Beers has played a pivotal role in South African history since the origin of mining in our country. The winds of change in post-Apartheid South Africa and during the early stages of our new-found democracy led to much speculation about De Beers’ eventual decision to move its South African stock listing operations to London.

The post-Apartheid era has also seen a very silent sell-off of remaining De Beers’ assets, e.g. the Cullinan-, Kimberley- and Koffiefontein mines. Link this to the sad deterioration of the South African West Coast’s Kleinzee and Alexander Bay operations, after having been abandoned due to poor decisions taken during a number of transformation attempts as well as uncertainty caused by land claims processes, and a finger can be pointed at Government for failing to create a favourable enough environment to keep De Beers as part of the South African economy.

What are the factors that swayed De Beers’ decision in favour of Botswana instead of South Africa – the country that generated glittering prosperity for De Beers and made it the financial giant it has become? Issues such as a 25% jump in gross mining and production costs, exorbitant increases in electricity prices, higher than inflation wage increases and then, highly irresponsible and revolutionary cries for the nationalisation of the mining industry surely played a strong role in their decision and will definitely also play a similar role when prospective future investors have to come to a decision to invest in South Africa or not. What is required, instead, is a sense of responsibility, a good dose of wisdom and strong leadership focused on harnessing the energy of all South Africans to become a winning nation.

The very disappointing decision made by De Beers to ignore South Africa in favour of Botswana leaves the average South African with a feeling of being emasculated due to the complete absence of the aforesaid ingredients to adequately address the crucial-to-survival issues that our country so desperately needs.

When Johan Dippenaar, CEO of Petra Diamonds, says: “… choppy waters for the foreseeable future, but industry fundamentals would continue to support record prices over the long term”, let’s hope that Government ensures that the so-called “industry fundamentals” remain in place. The majority of South Africans realise the importance of creating the ideal investment environment, but we remain at the mercy of those irresponsible and visionless leaders who do not realise the injustice they are engineering against all of us in South Africa, and particularly against the increasing number of the poor. 

South Africans truly desire to be part of a winning nation, as does UASA, a proudly South African organisation.