Building a more resilient mining industry in Africa, Anglo American’s Duncan Wanblad’s take

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The mining sector in Africa and various regions worldwide has confronted numerous challenges.

According to Duncan Wanblad, Chief Executive at Anglo American, the last few years have certainly been characterised by volatility and disruption–from macro-economic risks and geopolitical upheavals to inflation and higher interest rates, fragmented supply chains and the dual crises of energy and climate.

“It is against this backdrop that countries and companies must adapt, be agile and be more resilient,” said Wanblad during his keynote address at Investing in African Mining Indaba 2024 event in South Africa.

In sharing his thoughts, the CEO indicated that for the industry to achieve greater resilience, stakeholders must reckon with increased disruption as a new normal, get through the current stresses and strains on business and society but also adopt a truly long-term mindset and also give chance to the power of partnerships for the success of Africa’s mining industry.

“It is our duty to build a more resilient mining industry: resilient in terms of how we operate our businesses through the cycle; resilient in terms of the returns we can make to the shareholders who own our companies (and that includes millions of public sector pensioners, employees and community trusts, let’s be clear); and resilient in terms of the breadth of contributions we make to communities and host countries – nowhere more relevantly than across African mining countries,” he said.

In considering the new normal of disruption, Wanblad says no one has all the answers and that the industry is as resilient as it needs to be but businesses need to reset onto a more sustainable taking into account how much has shifted around us in the last couple of years.

“Like everyone, we have to set up our mining operations for long term success and to be competitive on the world stage. And that starts with reliably delivering what you plan to deliver – the right volumes at the right cost to generate the right value. That’s the foundation of resilience.”

For him, finding the sweet spot in volumes and value is the only way to attract the capital to sustain the mines that are the lifeblood of so many economies.

“Only the companies and countries that pay attention to global shifts, demonstrate agility in the face of uncertainty and reposition themselves for the future, will prosper,” he said adding that being resilient is when businesses manage their own positions without relying on other to survive or prosper.

Looking beyond the cycle to build resilience

Wanblad says a lot have changed in the last 18 months and because different circumstances require different approaches, there is need to think and act through the cycles and take serious actions to get back on track which may bring some short-term pain but good for long-term value creation.

“The last few years serve as a prime example of mining’s ups and downs. Amidst the global economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, mining emerged relatively unscathed, thanks to the leadership shown by the industry to ensure that mining’s role as the engine of many economies was able to continue – and to do so safely. This resilience led to a significant boon for a mineral-rich country like South Africa.”

In 2021, the R70 billion the mining industry in South Africa paid to the fiscus in company taxes and royalties was 70% higher than in 2020. In 2022, that figure rose to R88 billion (company taxes of R73.6 billion, and royalties of R14.2 billion1).

Current challenges

Concurrently, mining companies have been facing their own set of challenges, fueled by declining ore grades and sharply increased input costs. Margins evaporate quickly in these circumstances, so something has got to give.

According to Wanblad, what matters is the industry’s and government’s ability to navigate these challenges to ensure that the industry does survive and prosper given the smaller direct workforces the industry is contending with right now.

This is the immediate crisis that the mining industry faces, especially here in South Africa given the ramifications go further than just those who are employed directly by the mining industry.

Businesses – large, medium, and small are also affected by the difficult period of workforce contraction that mining is facing to be sustainable for the long term.

“This is a call to action, not just for those within the mining industry, but for all of us, as we confront the reverberations that ripple through the economy. Through numerous programmes and interventions, the mining industry has long committed itself to thinking beyond the cycle.”

Partnerships for progress

Wanblad believes that South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Zambia are just four of many other African countries where the industry is demonstrating the power of partnerships.

“When I look at South Africa, I’ve described the challenges the mining industry faces as a “burning platform” in many conversations with government and other stakeholders.”

He mentioned of Business for South Africa initiative which is a true partnership between business and government. “I’m pleased that we are seeing some encouraging progress, with determined commitment from all parties but this is not enough.”

He indicated that what started as a conversation amongst a few, has become a movement of more than 130 companies who are putting their shoulder to the wheel in support of government.

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