JOHANNESBURG (Reuters Life!) - Influential South African ANC youth leader Julius Malema says in a new documentary that the country’s mines must be nationalized to return mineral wealth to the black majority that was stolen by white colonists. Malema, head of the African National Congress’s Youth League, is one of the best-known politicians in the country and his comments in the documentary may further unnerve investors in the key mining sector and fuel debate on the issue.
The film, “Mining for Change: A Story of South African Mining,” debuted in March and is currently making the rounds at the Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival in Johannesburg and Cape Town, which runs June 9 to 26.
It previously screened at the PanAfrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou.
Among other things, Malema says overseas mining companies simply don’t care about poor mining communities in South Africa.
“They are in London ... They are playing God. The only thing they want to check is an update on bank balance. How the markets look like,” he says.
Malema’s comments are peppered throughout the film with interviews with other big South African personalities such as former trade unionist turned tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa and Nicky Oppenheimer, chairman of diamond giant De Beers.
The latter says he has “no problem” with the nationalization debate but thinks it has been settled. That may be wishful thinking and Malema — who has also called for mass land seizures — makes his case in his typically colorful way, explaining why nationalization should proceed without compensation by comparing South Africa’s mineral wealth to a stolen car.
“We are not going to buy what has been stolen from us. It’s like when a person steals my car and I report it to police. They find this car ... with new mag wheels and leather seat and you know, it’s now looking very nice,” he says.
“And then I said but this is my car. Say they ‘yes, this is your car, but this man has put a lot of investment, the mag wheels and what, what. You’ll have to pay him back before you get this car.’”
But he says he would still welcome foreign investment.
“You bring your machines and all the necessary equipment to come and extract the mineral - which I own ... That equipment, in their nice English, they call it investment. That’s fine. You come and invest, here, in my minerals,” he says.
The film also features interviews with former mine workers and details how the mining industry was interlinked with the white apartheid political system by segregating blacks from whites and creating a vast pool of cheap labor.
The film shows old interviews with former South African president Nelson Mandela advocating nationalization after his release from prison in 1990.
But the ANC dropped the policy under pressure from foreign investors, with Mandela in the early 1990s quoted as saying that “you could cut with a knife” the hostility he encountered to nationalization at a global conference he had attended.
Nationalization is not government policy now but there is support for it from sections of the ruling ANC. Current policy calls for 26 percent of the mining sector to be black-owned by 2014, which would be 20 years after the end of white rule.
The film was made last year and is directed by Navan Chetty and Eric Miyeni.
“I decided to make the movie because I think right now the biggest challenge South Africa is facing is improving the economic plight of the people, and our greatest resource is mining,” Miyeni told Reuters in a phone interview.
Editing by Paul Casciato