S. African Mines Grapple with Mismanagement, Neglect

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"For many, mining still epitomizes the apartheid equation of white power and black poverty."

South Africa sees getting its vast mineral wealth out of the ground as vital to creating desperately needed jobs, fueling growth and redressing the economic ravages of apartheid. But a toxic combination of a crumbling infrastructure, mismanagement and the specter of nationalization is frustrating the drive to improve and expand the country's mines. Some are asking whether political connections mean more than competence in an industry that is a pillar of South Africa's economy.

Mining Minister Susan Shabangu told reporters recently she is working with other government departments to address infrastructure problems. Shabangu said inspectors found some companies had fraudulently claimed significant black ownership to qualify for licenses under so-called black economic empowerment rules established to give opportunities to South Africans discriminated against under apartheid. Other companies got licenses even though they were bankrupt. Inspectors conducting the audit were threatened or offered bribes, when they could find company officials to speak with at all.

Shabangu said the most widespread problem is companies never embarking on the search for minerals for which they have been granted licenses.

Mining is closely associated with apartheid: it was the industry, after all, of the migrant labor system that tore men from their families across southern Africa, creating a legacy of broken homes that persists today. For many, mining still epitomizes the apartheid equation of white power and black poverty.

Sandile Nogxina, the top civil servant in Shabangu's department, told The Associated Press that the government is pursuing two goals: ensuring the industry grows, and ensuring blacks benefit from that growth.

In Orkney, Solly Phetoe, a union organizer in the region, said that after the bankruptcy of one black economic empowerment company, and the disappointing debut of the Mandela-Zuma partnership, all workers want is competent management, whether black- or white-led.

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