JOHANNESBURG, July 5 (Reuters) - A major conference of
South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) last week was billed as the final nail in the coffin for a drive to nationalise the country's mines. Instead, the policy corpse appears to be alive and kicking.
While 'blanket nationalisation' - a sweeping buyout that would cost the state, by its own reckoning, $132 billion, or nearly an entire annual budget - and a windfall tax appear to be off the table, the week-long ANC talk-fest has left almost everything else up in the air.
Amid confusion about reports of more state mining firms, partial nationalisation and 'strategic' minerals, Enoch Godongwana, the head of the ANC's 'Economic Transformation' Committee, took to the airwaves on Thursday to offer some clarity.
It didn't help.
'I do not know what kind of clarity people want,' Godongwana, a big-hitter in ANC policy circles, told Talk Radio 702, adding that nationalisation 'remains as a weapon for the ANC, as a tool, an instrument, as an option.'
It was a far cry from mines minister Susan Shabangu telling an audience at a Johannesburg business school last month the issue would be 'laid to rest' at the former liberation movement's five-yearly policy review.
Since the meeting concluded on Friday, various ANC factions have come out to claim victory in their fight to screw more rent out the mines, the economic backbone of the white-minority apartheid state that ended in 1994, and no friend of South Africa's overwhelming black majority.
Business Day reported on Thursday that delegates from six of South Africa's nine provinces pushed for mines and firms in the steel and energy sectors to be taken over - to the delight of the ANC Youth League, the most vocal proponent of the idea.
The conference also endorsed the idea of 'strategic nationalisation' if backed by the 'balance of evidence' - whatever that may mean.
Predictably, business leaders are bemoaning the lack of clarity and blaming below-the-surface power struggles ahead of another ANC conference at the end of the year to anoint a head - in all likelihood the incumbent, President Jacob Zuma.
'We have already indicated our discomfort,' said Sandile Zungu, general secretary of the Black Business Council, an influential lobby group.
'The ANC has to come out very clearly, unambiguously and frankly, and say this is what the policy conference position was on nationalisation.'
However, the possibility remains that keeping everybody guessing - including ANC rank and file - is actually part of the plan for the party's top brass as it moves towards the December internal vote and a general election in 2014.
'In terms of the definition, we don't want to have a situation where we announce up front what strategic minerals are because the notion of strategic minerals is a dynamic one,' Godongwana said, suggesting the obfuscation is deliberate.
Last week's conference is also not the first time the party has chewed over the issue ad nauseam - to the concern of mining investors - and then done precisely nothing.
Two years ago, at a policy conference in Durban, it was looking at 'strategic sectors' for nationalisation. Three years before that, it had its eye on 'strategic assets'.
'It's pure populist rhetoric,' said Peter Major, a mining analyst at Cadiz Corporate Solutions in Cape Town.
'They'll study it to death until the election comes, but they never really implement anything they say. They're not going to say anything to lose votes, but they're also not going to do anything to lose money.'
(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Mark Potter) Keywords: SAFRICA MINES/
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