Thank you, Melissa.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Fourth Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. Our inaugural conference took place at Emperors’ Palace at Ekurhuleni in 2015, before we concluded a strategic partnership agreement that saw us meeting here at the IDC Conference Centre over the past two years. This is now the third conference here at the IDC, and we are immensely grateful to the Corporation.
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your support and patronage. It always means so much to us to have you turning out in such numbers at this important industry conference. The starting point in arranging a conference is getting the right topics and relevant speakers to address them, but the most important is ensuring that there is an active, participative audience to engage meaningfully with the speakers and the topics under discussion. Therefore, this conference would not be the success that we would like it to be without your presence.
We are immensely grateful to all our Speakers, all of whom are busy men and women who have put time aside to be with us in the course of today and tomorrow. Quite a number of them have become regulars, and have addressed the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba at least once or even twice before. They are the lifeblood of this annual conference: without them, there is no conference.
From our inaugural year, we have been very fortunate to get top-quality speakers for this Indaba. We thank each one of them – those already here with us this morning, and the many others yet to join us in the course of the day and tomorrow.
As always, our Partner, the Industrial Development Corporation, and our Sponsors are richly deserving of our appreciation and gratitude. As with some of our speakers, quite a number of our Sponsors have come to be reliable, regular Partners of ours when it comes to the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. MerSeta and Standard Bank have been with us from the very beginning, and over the past two years we have been delighted to welcome Sanlam, Investec, Novare, Kagiso Asset Management and SMS Group on board. We are delighted to welcome Rand Mutual Assurance on board this year.
We are immensely grateful to and appreciate all our sponsors, but wish to acknowledge, in particular, the 100-year-old Sanlam, which is our Gold Sponsor this year, and which was also our Primary Sponsor for the annual SEIFSA Golf Day last month. We know that Sanlam has expressed a wish to grow that partnership with SEIFSA stronger from year to year, and we eagerly look forward to that.
Finally, we also acknowledge and appreciate our media partners: Engineering News, Independent Newspapers and Classic FM.
Ladies and Gentlemen, 2019 will mark the fifth anniversary of the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. Coinciding as it will with SEIFSA’s 76th year, we have every intention of making it our biggest and best conference ever. To accomplish that goal, we will need the dedicated support of all our delegates, our Strategic Partner the IDC and all our Sponsors. Indeed, we will need the active support of the governments that we and our compatriots elected at local government level and will have elected next year at provincial and national levels.
Regrettably, the only thing that the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba has not yet had to the full extent is the enthusiastic support of our democratic Government. While we have deeply appreciated the involvement of Former President Kgalema Motlanthe, then-ANC Treasurer-General Dr Zweli Mkhize, Ministers Mildred Oliphant, Pravin Gordhan, Lindiwe Zulu, Ebrahim Patel and, this year, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, hitherto we have struggled to get the President of the country, the Deputy President of the country, the Minister of Trade and Industry, other key Ministers, the Gauteng Provincial Government and the Cities of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni to show the metals and engineering sector the respect worthy of them by participating in this conference.
While we welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment, during his inaugural State of the Nation Address in February, that the Government will place an emphasis on manufacturing, we must say, though, that we are deeply concerned that we have not yet seen a higher level of commitment to the metals and engineering sector from the Department of Trade and Industry and other parts of his Government (including the Presidency itself). They were all invited to this conference, but waited until the eleventh hour to inform us that, once again, they would not bother to join us. We find that deeply concerning and hope that there will be a change in attitude after next year’s elections.
I mention this, Ladies and Gentlemen, to make the important point that SEIFSA is not a politically partisan organisation. We believe in working in collaborative partnership with all stakeholders, starting with the three spheres of government, regardless of whichever party is in power in that sphere at the time. We want always to have healthy, constructive relations with our elected governments and our labour partners. That is why we get deeply concerned when elected officials who are accountable to us as personal and corporate taxpayers do not take as important a sector of the economy as the metals and engineering cluster seriously and want to be begged to do the work for which we pay them.
In the past, some in Government, especially at the Department of Trade and Industry, have wanted to lean on us to exclude members of the Official Opposition from the programme before that Department could support us. They have gone as far as wanting to have a say on the composition of the programme and the identification of speakers to be invited. Needless to say, we have rejected both attempts.
Personally, I have been deeply alarmed by such conduct from a Government Department that is meant to be a champion for business in government. That suggests that some people in that Ministry – and, perhaps, in Government in general – have tended to see themselves as deployed party apparatchiks rather than the servants of the people. That, in my view, will explain why, in the four years of this conference, we have not once had the privilege of the Minister of Trade and Industry or the Director-General in that Department addressing – let alone attending – the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. This is particularly disturbing when one considers, to the best of one’s knowledge, that, quite correctly, there has never an annual Mining Indaba without the presence and active participation of the Minister of Mineral Resources, whoever the incumbent has been at the time.
Clearly, then, Ladies and Gentlemen, we need a serious change in attitude from the Department of Trade and Industry and many others in Government, including the Gauteng Provincial Government which has excelled at making all sorts of promises but has been spectacularly poor at meaningfully reaching out to and working with business – or, in particular, the metals and engineering sector. Over the past three years we have invited both the Gauteng Premier and his Economic Development MEC to this conference, and neither has even bothered to reply to that invitation.
That, I suggest, is simply not good enough. Instead, it speaks of the arrogance that has come to characterise our Government. We must hope, therefore, that the now-fading “New Dawn” promised by an ebullient President Ramaphosa will soon manifest itself, with the President and his Deputy leading by example. We must state clearly that the Government does not do us a favour by engaging with us. Instead, it would be doing its job – and that is all we are asking it to do.
Those in Government must know that, whenever they refuse to make themselves available to address this conference, we will simply extend an invitation to those – inside and outside this Government, including members and leaders of opposition parties – who are willing to engage with us. They are important to us because of the lofty positions that they hold in government, but they certainly do not possess a monopoly on wisdom or insights into what is important for the revival of our economy.
With that out of the way, let me move on to extend my deepest gratitude to Dr Mathews Phosa, former ANC Treasurer-General and the inaugural Premier of Mpumalanga, for bailing us out and agreeing, when we were let down by the Presidency at the eleventh hour, to deliver the Opening Address this morning. I am also equally grateful to the Leader of the Official Opposition, Mmusi Maimane, for similarly accepting our invitation to deliver the Closing Address tomorrow afternoon, after repeated attempts to get Deputy President David Mabuza to do so failed dismally. To Dr Phosa, a veteran businessman and experienced politician, and to Mr Maimane, thank you very much for your continued accessibility.
Finally, I acknowledge the presence this morning of a number of our Board Members, among them Interim President Alph Ngapo, and the Chairpersons and members of our various member Associations. Also acknowledged, with gratitude, is the presence of members of the leadership of the IDC.
We look forward to a fruitful, robust engagement with our speakers in the course of the next two days. At the end of each day, there will proposed resolutions that will be put to you, the delegates, for your consideration and adoption.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we at SEIFSA believe very firmly that, however difficult things may be at the moment, there continues to be a future for Manufacturing in South Africa and our region, and we believe that that future also includes a thriving Metals and Engineering Sector. However, for the sector to realize its full potential, it behoves all of us – in business, Government and labour – to get all hands on deck.
Thank you very much, yet again, for your attendance. Let us have a fruitful engagement that will be seen by future generations to have vital for the continued survival of our Sector.