In a major announcement this past week, diamond mining giant De Beers said it planned to sell a 26% stake of its local operations to newly created black-owned consortium Ponahalo.

If finance for the 3.8 billion rand ($560 million) deal is approved, De Beers would be on track to fully comply with the Mining Charter adopted by parliament in May.

It stipulates that mining companies should be 15% black-owned by 2009 and 26% black-owned by 2014, said Deputy Director-General of Regulations Jacinto Rocha of Minerals and Energy Department.

"The process is moving, the companies are applying, [whether] it is fast enough or slow enough, 2009 is still three more years to go," Rocha said.

"There is a timeframe ... the companies will decide within this period how prepared they are to comply with it."

Positive reaction

Minerals and Energy Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said reaction to the legislation from mining companies had been "very positive so far".

"Even before the legislation was concluded there were several deals with BEE (black economic empowerment) companies," Hendricks said at the De Beers announcement.

The ANC government has made
black empowerment a priority

Gold miner AngloGold led the way with an empowerment deal in 2002, selling some of its mines to African Rainbow Minerals Gold, owned by mining mogul Patrice Motsepe, a black businessman estimated to be worth around 3.3 billion rand after signing several major empowerment deals.

When the former liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), was voted into power in 1994 in the first democratic elections after the end of apartheid, the new government made black empowerment a priority.

It drew up laws to redress imbalances in an economy where whites held virtually all of the wealth, with the Mining Charter being one of its most significant pieces of legislation.

As a result, mining companies have been scrambling to find suitable black partners, preferably business people with political contacts, so that they can benefit from government contracts.

Mergers

In April this year, Harmony Gold, the world's sixth-largest gold miner, sold a 14% stake to the African Rainbow Minerals empowerment trust for almost 830 million rand, as part of its empowerment process.

Diamond giant De Beers will sell
26% of its stake 

Rocha said that the government had approved the Harmony and AngloGold deals but that other mining houses, including De Beers, still had to go through a "regulatory process" to have their new black empowerment statuses recognised.

"We have put a stamp of approval on AngloGold, the other one is Harmony. Kumba, Gold Fields and De Beers have announced ... [but] they have not gone through the process yet," said Rocha.

"Announcing is not a regulatory process. Announcing is a public relations  process which is completely different from a regulatory process. It does not mean that they have already complied," he added.

In the De Beers case, the proposed deal was announced but the new black partners still need to obtain financing for the transaction.

Last month, mining companies Anglo American and Kumba Resources announced a deal to establish the country's largest wholly black-owned mining company, which would have an enterprise value of 16 billion rand.

"We consider transformation to be a strategic imperative ... we recognise our future success depends on it," said Anglo American chairman Tony Trahar.