South Africa’s new President, Jacob Zuma, has split the Department of Minerals and Energy into two separate departments, namely, mining (on the one hand) and energy (on the other), each headed by a separate minister, with a view to affording greater attention on industry specific issues.
The mining industry has historically been the driving force of the South African economy. Consequently, mining issues have generally overshadowed energy-related matters. However, in recent years, the role of energy has grown. Political commentators, who had previously expressed the view that the mining and energy sectors have become too complicated to continue to be housed in one Ministry, have welcomed the moves by President Zuma.
The South African Chamber of Mines reported, in response to the announcement of the split, that its members were pleased with the appointment of Susan Shabangu as the minister responsible for mining (the “Minister”) in view of her previous role as deputy minister of Minerals and Energy. Similarly, the National Union of Mineworkers said it too welcomed her appointment, stating that the former unionist was "action-oriented" (Reuters 2009).
Perhaps the most urgent issues facing the Minister are the improvement of mining safety and the need to mitigate the potential loss of jobs due to the global economic downturn. The Minister’s first tasks will also include the supervision of the first major review of the Mining Charter and the processing of new mining licence applications which, in the opinion of many players in the mining industry, take too long to be reviewed. The Minister is also likely to play a key role in establishing a national mining company, which South Africa's ruling ANC has previously stated is a priority for the new government.