South Africa’s mining industry should speed up transformation in the sector to let more black players in, or face pressure from an increasingly restive population, deputy mineral resources minister Godfrey Oliphant warned on Thursday.

“The message to the mining industry is that … the time for transformation in a meaningful way is actually now,” Oliphant said on the last day of the industry’s annual “mining indaba” in Cape Town.

“If we don’t rise up to the challenges of transformation we might be put under pressure by society to do things which we might regret,” he added, pointing to rising tensions around the slow pace of land redistribution as an example.

Young black South Africans say they are struggling to get a foothold into the mine industry, which remains dominated by whites despite the end of  apartheid rule 24 years ago.

The government was forced to suspend implementation of a new mining charter introduced by mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane last year, which compelled companies to meet a 30 percent minimum for black ownership, after the chamber of mines launched a court challenge.

The chamber, which represents major mining companies operating in South Africa, says Zwane did not carry out adequate consultations in drawing up the charter, which it says would be damaging to the industry.

It insists mining companies recognise the necessity of transformation, and that “the industry’s transformation performance is satisfactory and demonstrates the commitment to continuous improvement”.

In a question and answer session at the “indaba” on Thursday, Oliphant said the government and mine industry should continue discussions to iron out their differences, but poured cold water on the possibility of withdrawing the charter.

“We recognise that we’ve got a dispute that has gone to the courts and we have said that we respect the rights of the mining industry to have taken the department to court,” he said.

“The mining industry also respected our right to defend as government what we’re doing. But government leaders must talk to the chamber of mines on the issues that we disagree on.”

– African News Agency (ANA)