A lawyer working in mining in Africa needs to be a diplomat and a business person, know a country’s history and understand the political landscape.
So says Ria Sanz, a key speaker at the upcoming General Counsel Forum | A Legal Indaba taking place as part of the African Mining Indaba on February 6.
The legal team Sanz leads for AngloGold Ashanti Limited, the world’s largest emerging-market gold producer, is based in Johannesburg but monitors 14 mining operations in nine countries on four continents.
“It is only through trust and transparency that lasting and successful relationships between mining companies, communities and governments are formed,” she says. “Mining is not a short-term business and for relationships to work and for everyone to benefit, there has to be open communication.”
While Sanz was born in Spain and grew up in Canada, she graduated with her LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand, an institution built on the ridge above one of the worlds’ richest gold seams.
Living in South Africa at a time when the legal framework governing extraction of the country’s natural resources is sometimes contested political terrain, she has deep sensitivity for how citizens feel about their nation’s riches.
Negotiating this tightrope and building constructive relationships that benefit a government, its citizens and the mining company is a role that falls firmly at the feet of the lawyer, she says.
“A lawyer plays a crucial role in enabling stakeholders to navigate hurdles. They need to be sensitive to the context they are working in, be fair and respectful but also understand the overall commercial objective.”
Less developed countries demanded much more from investors. It was in establishing the parameters of these relationships where the lawyer had to step up.
“In many cases, mining companies can have wide-ranging social responsibility obligations. While this is positive, ensuring expectations are managed is crucial for the long-term success of a relationship.”
While shifting political ground means risk can often be a factor, the taxes paid through mining can often be a major contributor to a country’s fiscus. When the lines are moved on laws and regulations governing the commercial framework of a mining operation, the skill and “good sense” of the lawyer are an asset.
The extractive industry has the potential to bring benefits to a country’s economy, enabling a government to “move the dial” for its citizens, Sanz added.
For Sanz, whose work means daily unpicking of complex problems, the key to success is teamwork.
“The different parts of our business are so intertwined that there has to be a collaborative approach and ongoing dialogue,” she says.
One of the issues likely to dominate discussion at the Legal Indaba is the push by many governments for ‘localisation’ of legal services. What this means is that mining companies are being pressed to use local lawyers to represent their interests.
“Again, it is the right thing to do. For the GC it means building partnerships so that the expectations of the government, the community and the mining company are aligned.”
The forum will be the first time GCs working in African mining come together and presents an opportunity to understand the unique challenges and opportunities these in-house lawyers face.
“Often you find yourself in the middle of exchanges between government officials and regulators in dynamic political environments. As lawyers we must have an understanding of each country where we are doing business – which means knowing the history, being cognisant of the political environment and aware of the social challenges.”
Outside of work Sanz is involved in business mentorship and has a special interest in empowering and advancing women.
“I want women to believe that they can achieve what they want to achieve if they are determined, resilient and have clear objectives.”
With two sons she knows only too well what it is like trying to build a career and cope with motherhood. She believes men and women must take equal responsibility for parenting.
To relax she runs and enjoys socialising with a supportive group of good female friends.
“Work is my passion and something that has been hugely rewarding in my life.”
The General Counsel Forum | A Legal Indaba takes place on 6 February 2020 at the CTICC in Cape Town and is free for legal, risk and compliance professionals working within the mining industry to attend. To register click here
Please note this is a sponsor only event for private practice law lawyers.