"There are green shoots but we must watch out for frostbite."
These were the words of Roger Baxter, the CEO of the Chamber of Mines, as the sun broke over Cape Town on the first morning of the Mining Indaba. More than 6,000 delegates, plus more than 20 government ministers and scores of big names in mining landed in Cape Town for the biggest mining gathering on the planet that runs until February 9.
Baxter painted a grim picture of mining in South Africa over the last five years in which costs rose, production collapsed and 60,000 jobs lost. An era that has left investors sceptical.
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"Investment has gone sideways since 2008 and the last two have been a tough couple of years. In 2016 the industry lost R38 billion. There are green shoots but we must watch out for frostbite," says Baxter of an industry that supports 460,000 and contributes 7.1% to GDP.
Wickus Botha, the head mining analyst at EY, is comforted by the fact that big hitters like Tom Albanese and his board at Vedanta Resources are attending.
“We have talked of green shoots in the mining industry for some time, maybe this is the year it will happen,” Botha said.