‘Already a crisis’: Urgent calls for Africa to get its house in order on critical minerals | Business

'Already a crisis': Urgent calls for Africa to get its house in order on critical minerals | Business

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe

Moeletsi Mabe/Sunday Times/Gallo Images

  • Energy minister Gwede Mantashe believes coal and uranium should be categorised as critical minerals. 
  • Key to stimulating the sector in South Africa is a functioning cadastral system, which the DMRE says is imminent.
  • South Africa and other African nations are late in formulating a strategy for their critical minerals.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

South Africa and other African nations must urgently formulate their own critical minerals strategies or risk continued failure to capitalise on their rich natural resources, mining and energy minister Gwede Mantashe said in a keynote address at the inaugural African Critical Minerals summit held in Sandton this week.

The minister said many developed countries have already categorised certain minerals as critical based on their resource endowment, supply chain vulnerabilities, and specific economic and technological priorities.

Many African nations, including South Africa, are yet to define and list critical minerals, but this is vital “because it will have significant implications for our strategic planning, prioritisation, and investment,” Mantashe said.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former deputy president of South Africa, outlined the vast mineral wealth of the continent. But, she said, “the fact that we do not have that strategy in 2023, is already a crisis.” She said she a way forward would be determined by the end of the two-day, inaugural summit. 

“One critical question that we need to answer for ourselves and answer it, honestly, is why have we not benefitted as much as we should have from our minerals,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “Indeed, we have had challenges of leadership. We have external circumstances that have made it difficult for us to take full advantage of our resources. And of course, we are not always as strategic as we need to be.”

Mantashe said South Africa is at an advanced stage of developing its critical minerals strategy, “which will help us industrialise and support our just energy transition to a low-carbon future”.

The minister, however, also noted that some countries define critical minerals in terms of their importance for the economy or national security and, in this vein, a commodity like coal could potentially be categorised as critical.

The same goes for uranium, a commodity used in nuclear power but which “does not find prominent expression in the lists of critical minerals”, he said.

Speaking to the need for local beneficiation, Mantashe said Africa needed to develop its own critical minerals strategy “to ensure that it does not repeat the mistakes of the past, as it was done with the pit-to-port approach to mining traditional minerals”.

Nolitha Fakude, president of the Minerals Council South Africa, said any strategy needs to consider the dynamism in the market.

“What is considered critical today can quickly become not so critical based on demand and supply, which is an important consideration in developing national strategies and policies around critical minerals,” she said.

Fakude said it is essential that research, development and innovation into new technologies and the best use of Africa’s minerals is encouraged, and that the academic, private and public sector pull together in this aim.

“We cannot afford to be left behind or start late” on policies which talk to the uses of critical minerals, she said.

Fakude, however, emphasised that a digital, searchable, minerals rights platform – known as a cadastral system – needed to be in place if South Africa is to realise its ambitions of developing its mineral potential.

Having scrapped a previous procurement process, earlier this year the department had put a tender out seeking an off-the-shelve cadastral solution.

Jacob Mbele, director-general of the department of mineral resources and energy, said a preferred bidder had now been selected but the process was being audited by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). An announcement is anticipated in coming weeks.

Source: https://www.news24.com/fin24/companies/already-a-crisis-urgent-calls-for-africa-to-get-its-house-in-order-on-critical-minerals-20230830