One of the most intriguing developments during the deliberations of the national general council of the African National Congress has been the emergence of Bridgette Radebe, one the richest women in South Africa, as an advocate of the nationalisation of the mines.
Radebe is the wife of Jeff Radebe, a member of the South African Communist Party's central committee and the minister of justice in President Jacob Zuma's administration. Her brother, Patrice Motsepe, is a mining magnate like her, and reputedly the richest man in South Africa.
Bridgette Radebe participated in the discussion at the ANC's national general council on economic policy, where she reportedly came out in favour of the nationalisation of the mines, a cause that has been vociferously advanced by Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League and in recent weeks identified himself as a potential, if not actual, opponent of President Zuma's.
Fiona Forde, an Irish journalist who is researching the role of Malema in present day South Africa, interviewed Radebe after her address to the ANC's commission on economic policy.
Forde's article was published on the front page of the Durban-based newspaper The Mercury. Her account of Radebe's views were neither criticised nor rejected by Radebe, who has been in contact with her since the publication of the article.
"The problem is the capitalist mining model," Radebe said. "(It) takes a piece of land (to) explore, exploit, extract, export leave ghost towns and go overseas."
Elaborating, she added: "When we created a new South Africa, 83 % of the resources were owned by the (racial) minority. Now 91 % is owned by monopolies ... We are sliding backwards. Some fundamental decisions have to be made."
Radebe identifies three future options in the mining industry: (1) public-private co-operation as in the co-operative mining and marketing of diamonds in Botwana, (2) state ownership and management of the mines and (3) a state buyout of mines of dwindling profitability held primarily by the beneficiaries of black economic empowerment.
Radbe seems to favour the third option most but is known to be quick to emphasise that she is not seeking monetary compensation for herself.
It is relevant to record that Jeremy Cronin has long accused Malema of fronting for black capitalists with a stake in the mines who are disappointed with their earnings and who want the government to take over their assets and to compensate them financially.
He declines to identify the black capitalists for whom Malema is allegedly fronting, though his reticence would be understandable - but not necessary excusable - if one or more of the black capitalists had close connections with the SACP.
Malema and his lieutenants are undoubtedly encouraged by the support for their drive to persuade the ANC to nationalise the mines. Even excluding the support of Radebe, however, the final outcome of the ANC's national general council is not bereft of solace for them, the severe chastisement of Malema by Zuma notwithstanding.
To start with, the national general council agreed in principle to the establishment of a state bank and, more important for the Youth League, a state mining company to guard the rights of the people of South Africa as a whole.
It should be noted that the rights of the people as whole to ownership of the minerals beneath the soil have already been secured in statuary law and that the state serves as the custodian of those rights.
The establishment of a state mining company will advance the process further by serving as the first step to the state assuming ownership of the mines and thus of responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the mines.
It is furthermore a promising sign for the proponents of the complete nationalisation of the mines that the establishment of a state mining company has reportedly been approved by Tokyo Sexwale, one of the giants of the mining industry and the minister of human settlement in Zuma's cabinet.
One of Sexwale's possible reasons for approving of the idea of a state mining company is that he seeking the support of the Youth League for a bid to secure the leadership of the ANC at its national conference in 2012 and thereby set himself up to fulfil his lon held ambition to become South Africa's president.
Another hopeful sign for the ANC Youth League is a national general council resolution for the ANC to ensure state involvement in and control of strategically important sectors of the economy, including the mining, petroleum and financial spheres of activity.
The resolution also instructs Susan Shabangu, the minister of mines, to develop a blueprint for the state's role in the mining industry. She has a mere year to complete the task. The outcome will be interesting as Shabangu is on record as saying that nationalisation will only occur over her dead body.
Enoch Godogwana, who served as the deputy chairman of the national general council commission on the transformation of the economy, has offered an assurance that the nationalisation debate will continue after the 2012 national conference.
It may be comforting to the ANC Youth League to know that the debate will continue after the conference and that, even if Zuma is re-elected as ANC president, nothing is written in stone.
But against that, the Youth League must know that if it is to succeed in fulfilling its aim of nationalising the mining industry as a whole it will hace to overcome the resistance of Trevor Manuel, the minister of planning and the immediate past minister of finance who won international kudos for his management of South Africa's economy.
Manuel is scornful of Radebe's mooting of a state takeover of those mines in which the beneficiaries of black economic empowerment have a large stake but whose earnings from them are meagre.
He warns in stern tones that the cost will be no less than the ANC reneging on its promises of improved social and health services to the poor, a development which would have potentially disastrous political repercussions for the ANC.
As Manuel puts it, that "surely can't be covered by the import of what the ANC believes."
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