Picture: for illustration purposes

Unveiling the Iron Ore

Published September 21, 2023
9 months ago

The multibillion-rand fight for a share of the Sishen iron ore mine, a well-established and highly lucrative entity, has been shrouded in enigma up until recently. Documents obtained by Mail & Guardian (M&G) have stripped away layers of corporate politicking, pointing at an undercurrent of corruption and stark favoritism towards the Intrinsically connected Imperial Crown Trading 289 (ICT).

Earlier this year, M&G unveiled how ICT, a rather nonchalant company with unfamiliar political ties, was given preferential “prospecting rights” over the existing mining area. This was a shock to many as SIOC had already expressed their desire to obtain mining rights over 21.4% of the mineral rights they didn’t yet own.

Constituting the major part of a dispute between SIOC, ArcelorMittal, and the Department of Mineral Resources, their value is insurmountable. ArcelorMittal had initially held the minority rights as a ripple effect of the Iscor break-up, but lost them due to their failure to retain their “old-order” rights consistent with new minerals legislation.

The tug-of-war over these rights has also led to SIOC pointing accusing fingers towards the Department of Mineral Resources, suspecting foul play in the application process, skewed in favor of ICT. This moved SIOC to launch a High Court application in May this year, aiming to overturn the awarding of prospecting rights to ICT — a company with zero track record but with profound ties to the ANC.

Despite the mounting tension and numerous suspicions, the details regarding this controversial allocation and SIOC's protest have remained elusive. But, the M&G's recent procurements shed light on what appear to be significant irregularities in the awarding process.

It is thus, a compelling paradox, that on the one hand, SIOC and Anglo, which has pending old-order rights applications with the minerals department, fear that open conflict with the government could hamper their other operations. On the other hand, there is a growing sentiment that this could potentially signal a “Venezuela moment” — suggesting business opportunities are gained via political pay-offs as opposed to rightful, lawful processes.

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