SOUTH AFRICA, Feb 10 – An air of gloom hung over Africa’s biggest annual mining conference this week as corporate giants and governments wrestled with boom times gone bust in the wake of China’s downturn.,
Politicians urged mining firms to limit job losses in economies already facing shrinking tax revenues from their mineral wealth, while struggling miners called on governments to provide investment and stability.
Phrases like “tough times” and “extraordinary circumstances” littered speeches and panel discussions at an unusually subdued Mining Indaba in Cape Town, which has drawn some 6,000 delegates.
“If we don’t adapt, we perish,” said Mark Cutifani, chief executive of Anglo American, which has announced plans to cut its portfolio of 55 mines by nearly half and shed some 85,000 jobs.
But like other CEOs and politicians, Cutifani also looked for silver linings in the clouds that have seen commodity prices drop across the board as growth slows in China, the world’s biggest market.
“China is moving from its infrastructure-fuelled growth to a consumer-led economy. It will be a bumpy ride but it is a supertanker that is not going to stop despite its slowdown,” he said.
“Things may still get worse before they get better.
“We can’t rely on a reversal of this price slump any time soon. For many of us in the industry, 2016 is already shaping up to be the most challenging year yet.”
On a continent where mining is a mainstay of many national economies, it is not only the miners who are facing this year with dread.
“We are asking mining companies to reinvest during this difficult period,” South Africa’s Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane told AFP on the sidelines of the conference.
He urged firms to work with the government in a country rich in natural resources to minimise the impact of job losses, which could run into the tens of thousands.
“Let’s not take advantage of the situation to make people worse off,” Zwane said.