(Updates with comment from the Chamber of Mines)
By Ed Stoddard
MIDDELBURG, South Africa, June 23 (Reuters) - South African Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said on Friday that he was open to talks with companies over a new industry charter, as he rebuked the mining firms for planning to take the new rules to court, saying they were “negotiating in bad faith.”
Unveiled last week, the revisions to the charter raised the threshold for black ownership in the mining industry to 30 percent from 26 percent and brought in other regulations the sector said it cannot afford.
The Chamber of Mines has said it was not properly consulted and would challenge the charter in court.
“Our doors are open to engagement with them. We will meet them,” Zwane said in an interview with Reuters when asked if he would negotiate with the chamber. “We do not want to go to court. We are a peaceful people,” he said.
Zwane also said he disapproved of the chamber’s court move saying “using the courts as a negotiating tool is negotiating in bad faith.”
The Chamber of Mines hit back at Zwane’s comments, noting the minister’s offer to meet the industry but questioned the timing.
“The Chamber is perplexed that this offer has arisen now, more than a week after the publication of a charter that was based on a bad faith process. We cannot see that the minister’s comments form the basis for a mutually acceptable resolution of this matter,” it said in a statement.
The industry body said its intended court action is a consequence of the absence of good faith negotiations on the part of the minister and department.
The mines minister was speaking to Reuters at an event in the coal mining town of Middelburg where he was supposed to engage communities about the charter in a public forum.
But it was disrupted by a group of demonstrators who said they were angry that no provincial officials were there and it was hastily called off.
The new charter also stipulates that mining firms must pay 1 percent of their annual turnover to the Mining Transformation and Development Agency, which helps black communities.
Under the new rules, prospecting rights must be 50 percent black owned and mining rights should be 30 percent black owned. Mining firms are required to procure 70 percent of goods and 80 percent of services from black-owned companies.
Zwane would not be drawn on what parts of the charter might be changed, if any.
“I cannot say the charter will change,” he said.
Zwane also said exploration permits for shale gas would likely be issued before the end of this year and fracking could begin in two years.
South Africa’s recoverable gas reserves from onshore shale and offshore gas fields was estimated in 2015 at about 19.5 trillion cubic feet (TCF). Officials say it would take about a decade to significantly develop these gas resources. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard, Additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Adrian Croft)