Warm greetings to you all! Thank you for inviting me. We have gathered at this Mining Lekgotla among other things to share ideas and experiences regarding the role of Women in Mining. It is indeed an opportune time to do this given that the month of August is dedicated to the women of our country in recognition of their selfless contribution towards its liberation.
So let me start by wishing all the women of this country a Happy Women’s Month, even as we are coming to the end of the Month. It is important to indicate that the Women in Mining initiative owes its existence to the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality of 1994.
The Charter stipulated that, "There shall be no categorisation of jobs on the basis of gender, nor shall gender stereotypes determine the work that women do." It is consequently against this backdrop that we now have events such as those focused on Women in Mining. The 1994 Charter went on to state that, "Economic policy must secure women’s place in the economy."
In other words, the economic policy of our country must seek to bring about women’s economic empowerment – which refers to our capacity to bring about economic change for ourselves and society as a whole.
Securing women’s place in the economy in general and mining in particular requires that the role of women should not be confined to the skills and training they receive within the sector, but should go far beyond that to the actual ownership of mining assets.
I am convinced that those of us who claim to be progressive would advocate having every nook and cranny of the extractive industries boasting the real involvement of a critical mass of women – and this should be throughout the entire mining value chain.
I would like to add to what I have said that one of the central pillars of the struggle for a democratic South Africa was gender equality and therefore the empowerment and emancipation of women.
Among other things, this was because the liberation movement understood that we could not be a truly democratic country without gender equality. Neither would we succeed to eradicate poverty and inequality in our country without the empowerment and emancipation of women.
It is therefore logical that we would expect that the democratic State that emerged after the defeat of the apartheid system would indeed take all measures to accomplish the important objectives of gender equality and therefore the empowerment and emancipation of women.
However, based on my recent experience in getting funding to ensure that our place as women in the economy is secured, suffice it to say that we still have a long way to go.
Despite the avalanche of messages communicated in different fora which have stressed that the economic empowerment of women is a prerequisite for sustainable development, pro-poor growth and the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals, women still continue to experience serious barriers in almost every respect.
Be that as it may, we should draw strength from women who fought similar battles of changing the status quo during their time, relating to gender equality.
One such woman was the 19th century Bulgarian pioneer of the study of Radioactivity and the founder of Experimental Nuclear Physics Research in Bulgaria, Professor Elisaveta Kara-Michailova.
In her autobiography, she recounts how difficult, at some point, it was for women to obtain higher education, at least in Europe.
She said, and I quote:
"At the turn of the 19th century, the prevailing public opinion did not tolerate the desire of girls to enter colleges or universities, but rather opposed such a desire.
"This means that those girls who entered university were self-motivated to challenge the moral code of the society they lived in and courageous enough to break the society’s good manners."
Challenge with Funding
We too need to be self-motivated to challenge the moral code of our society and courageous enough to break our society’s "good" manners, however "good" these may seem to be.
One of the moral codes of our society and "good" manners that need to be challenged pertains to women’s access to funding of mining projects from financial institutions in South Africa, including the State Development Finance Institutions.
In this regard it should be borne in mind that mining is a capital intensive sector, and therefore requires substantial funding.
As I have said, my experience in trying to acquire funding in our country has taught me that the lines seem to be blurred between the roles of the State Development Finance Institutions on one hand, and conventional funding institutions such as commercial banks on the other.
There seems to be a deficit in understanding the significance of the economic empowerment of women and its benefits.
It is my understanding that commercial banks, by their very nature, are driven by profit-making and are thoroughly averse to risk.
So, in making investment decisions, they assess projects based on risk and return, their ability to service debt within the specified tenure, and make no reference to the importance of those projects in contributing to the development of the country and achieving important national policy objectives.
This is understandable in light of their business model.
However, this creates distortions in the market with regard to the availability of capital to fund projects that are deemed to be too risky by commercial banks, irrespective of whether such projects are of strategic importance to the development of the country.
It is these market distortions that the State Development Finance Institutions were meant to correct, especially given the commitment of the democratic post-apartheid State to gender equality and the empowerment and emancipation of women to which I have referred.The State Development Finance Institutions are supposed and empowered to:
- help our country to reach a higher and sustainable level of development;
- finance high priority investment projects in a developing economy;
- identify and develop strategic and longer-term-profitable sectors; and
- address capital market inefficiencies which arise when private capital is unwilling to lend or bear the risk, among other things.
Contrary to all these, it does seem to me that our State Development Finance Institutions are using the same risk matrices as the commercial banks.
This undermines the achievement of the objectives of both the State and the private sectors to help our country to reach higher and sustainable levels of economic growth, development, and the eradication of poverty and inequality.
Related to the point above, it also seems to me that our State Development Finance Institutions are doing very little to address capital market inefficiencies which arise when private capital is unwilling to lend or bear the necessary risk.
I am afraid that in this regard the State DFIs seem to have joined forces with the private financial institutions in terms of considering investment in women, certainly in mining, as being too risky.
Part of what is also worrying to me is that our State DFIs seem to recruit professionals who come from the commercial banks, with no development background whatsoever.
These same professionals are then tasked with making decisions that are supposed to represent the very essence of our country’s development agenda.
Lastly, it also seems to me that our State DFIs are doing very little to identify and vigorously develop strategic and longer-term-profitable sectors, of which mining forms a significant part.
I mention these things with a sense of frustration given the challenges of unemployment that continue to ravage our country and low investment in the productive sectors of our economy.
I am also contesting the sluggish pace at which our State DFIs have moved since the advent of democracy.
In this context I must mention that buried deep in the National Development Plan, in its Chapter Three, we find this suggestion, that with regard to "Access to debt and equity finance", the Government should:
"urgently consider measures to reform the mandates and operations of development finance institutions in line with initiatives already being undertaken, and upgrade the skills of those providing business advice and services."
Whatever was intended in this regard, this means that as at the moment of the publication of the Plan, the work to reform the mandates and operations of the State DFIs had not been done.
I sincerely hope that when our Government embarks on this important work, assuming that it has not done so already, it will consult all of us, especially the women, including those involved in mining, who should be among the main beneficiaries of the operations of the State DFIs.
With regard to everything I have said, I would like to emphasise that with regard to the critical challenge of access to credit, our hope as Women in Mining is that the State DFIs will live up to their responsibilities, which is the only way to ensure the required "buy-in" of the private sector financial institutions with their considerable financial resources.
Proposed SolutionsI wish to emphasise in similar vein as the OECD that:
- equitable and preferential access to assets and services such as innovation and credit, banking and financial services needs to be fast-tracked
- in order strengthen women’s rights and promote economic growth;
- innovative approaches and partnerships are needed to scale up women’s economic empowerment; and,
- a holistic approach and long-term commitment from all development actors is required in order to secure women’s place in the economy and
- bring about the economic empowerment of South African women. This should be done both by women for women and by society as a whole.
During earlier years of our democracy, all public and private stakeholders in our country's mining sector agreed that this sector was and is a "sunrise" rather than a "sunset" industry.
I still believe that this is correct. In addition, the fact is that mining occupies a very important place in the South African economy, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
For these reasons, and given its history in the economic development of our country, it provides a very natural focus for the concentrated and sustained implementation of the transformation policies and programmes of democratic South Africa, including women’s empowerment, and the eradication of poverty and racial and gender inequality.
Since mining will continue to play a critical role in the development of our country; since there is a need to level the playing field to enable new players in mining to succeed and thrive; since the current levels of unemployment have reached horrendous proportions; and if we believe that women have an important role to play in advancing the agenda of development in South Africa, then we should back this up through our actions.
The economic empowerment of South African women, and its strategic social consequences with regard to the absolute imperative to eradicate poverty and inequality in our country, will remain a dream deferred if our actions are not consistent with our pronouncements.
Surely, one of the real outcomes of this important Mining Lekgotla must be a definitive statement, shared by all stakeholders, including Government, which helps practically to advance the effective participation of Women in Mining.
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