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New Mineral Resources Minister faces uphill battle

The mining industry warns of large-scale retrenchments because of low gold and platinum prices.

Newly appointed Mineral Resources Minister, Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: Dumelang Media.

JOHANNESBURG - President Jacob Zuma hasn't explained why he left the Public Service and Administration Ministry vacant for six months before making the appointment of Ngoako Ramatlhodi and he also hasn't explained why he believes new Mineral Resource Minister Mosebenzi Zwane will fix the problems in the mining sector.

But Zwane faces an uphill challenge.

The mining industry has warned of large-scale retrenchments because of low gold and platinum prices and has been in high level talks with now former minister Ramathlodi.

The context of this appointment could also lead to questions about Zwane's past.

The Mail & Guardian has previously reported that the department Zwane headed in the Free State sent an official investigation to an Indian provincial minister.

That invitation was then used as the justification to allow guests for a wedding of the Gupta family to land at the Waterkloof Airforce Base.

When Ramatlhodi first came into office in May last year, he was able to resolve the five month long platinum strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Amcu says the removal of Ramatlhodi from the Mineral Resources department was done because took a tough stance against mining companies on black economic empowerment.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa says, "We felt very strong that the president should have maybe waited and see Ramatlhodi pulling through until 2016 but at this critical time he's been challenging these companies compliance and then I wonder whether this is not a political change."

Zwane's appointment was described as a positive development.

Ramatlhodi's special advisor advocate Muofe Mahlodi says the minister is confident Zwane will work well mining role players.

"We'd like to thank stakeholders in the mineral resources sector and he hopes that the relationships established there will continue."

Business Day newspaper resources editor Allan Seccombe says the appointment is a shock as not much is known about Zwane.

"We've been hearing rumours for a while that he was going to go but the reasons were never clear. I never got to the bottom of why he has fallen out of favour with Zuma. But to bring in the completely unknown, that is complete and utter mystery.

The news means Nathi Nhleko, who had been the acting Minister for Public Service, will now step down as Ramatlhodi takes up the position.

Zuma thanked Nhleko for temporarily filling the post.

Zwane will be sworn in as Mineral Resources Minister at the Union Buildings later today.

The Presidency's Bongani Majola said, "Mr Zwane will be sworn in at 4pm at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. I wish both Mr Zwane and advocate Ramatlhodi well in their respective portfolios."

Zwane was sworn in as a Member of Parliament at the beginning of this month after serving as Free State MEC of Agriculture.

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