South Africa’s Top Gold Miner Says President Zuma Must Quit

Sibanye Gold CEO: People Bullish on Future of Gold
  • Poor governance deterring investors, Sibanye CEO Froneman says
  • ‘There’s no doubt there’s incompetence’ and corruption: CEO

South African President Jacob Zuma “has to go,” with poor governance deterring prospective investors, according to the head of Sibanye Gold Ltd., the biggest producer of bullion in the country.

“Any solid investor, any solid company is founded on good governance and what we have in South Africa at the moment is very poor governance, from a government point of view,” Sibanye Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman said in an interview on Monday from the Denver Gold Forum in Colorado Springs.

Neal Froneman
Neal Froneman
Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

He joins Sipho Pityana, chairman of AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and a prominent African National Congress member, in calling for Zuma to step down. Pityana last week said Zuma had “no integrity” and his actions are putting South Africa at risk of a credit-rating downgrade to junk. 

Zuma, 74, has spooked investors this year by sparring with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for control of the Treasury, tax collection agency and state companies, while in March the nation’s top court said the president violated the constitution for refusing to repay taxpayer money spent on his private home.

Zuma spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga didn’t immediately comment on Froneman’s remarks.

On Sept. 16, Zuma urged politicians and business executives to “refrain from making public utterances that promote a negative narrative about the country,” while asking companies and government to work together to boost the economy. Officials from the Treasury, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Old Mutual Plc and Standard Bank Group Ltd. will meet with investors in the U.S. on Oct. 4 and 5 in a bid to shore up investor confidence.

Pityana has urged business leaders to boycott such international tours with government.

“There’s no doubt there’s incompetence,” Froneman said on Monday. “There’s corruption. And all of those things have to change.”

Seeking Predictability

Triple Flag Mining Finance Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Shaun Usmar echoed Froneman’s comments in an interview from the same conference on Tuesday. While the new mining-finance company backed by billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp. is on the prowl for opportunities, South Africa isn’t being targeted.

“Investors like predictability,” Usmar, who grew up in South Africa, said. “They’ve got to do something about restoring that and also just dealing with corruption.”

Sibanye shares fell 3.2 percent in Johannesburg Tuesday, after more than doubling in the year to date.

“The one thing we can say about South Africa at the moment is we’ve got a very good legal system,” Froneman said when asked about the risk of retribution by authorities. “We can rely on it, in terms of companies. If there is any retribution, we’ll deal with it.”

While operating in South Africa can be tough, it’s an environment that Sibanye understands. The company is looking at expanding, possibly in platinum group metals, although Froneman said valuations are still high and the company wouldn’t use equity for deals now.

The Bloomberg Intelligence Global Senior Gold Valuation Peers Index surged more than 150 percent this year through early August, before investors began pocketing gains, triggering a 20 percent retreat. Sibanye and fellow South African miner Harmony Gold Mining Co. are the cheapest stocks in the index, trading at 7.2 and 8.2 times estimated earnings, respectively, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The index trades at an average ratio of 21.

South Africa’s business environment helps explain that discount and is one of the reasons why such low valuations aren’t attracting takeover offers.

“I wish it did,” Froneman said. “I welcome corporate action. I think it’s the best way of creating value for your shareholders. But unfortunately, South Africa is still seen as such as difficult destination. With us predominantly being in South Africa, I’m not sure there’s a lot of people that have the appetite to operate in South Africa. But, of course, with our strong cash flows, I think we can be the acquirers, rather than be acquired.”

The company is among the least leveraged major gold producers, with a net debt to earnings before items ratio of 0.7, compared with the peer group average of 1.7, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sibanye’s current ratio, which measures a company’s ability to pay short-term obligations, is the lowest in the group.

Froneman said gold’s recent pullback to about $1,314 an ounce is creating a buying opportunity, with prices set to trade in a range of $1,400 to $1,500. He expects a “double whammy” boost from strong gold prices and a weak rand, which has weakened about 4.2 percent against the dollar over the past year.

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