Mining had contracted in the second quarter of 2020 in South Africa, and the country had already slipped into recession prior to the COVID-19 lockdown in March.
Mantashe said it was "time for the industry to work together to pull South Africa out of the crisis".
"The future of our mining industry rests with the junior mining sector," he said at 2020 Junior Indaba.
"Exploration is the way to go and a priority for the department."
Artisanal mining would be formalised to create an avenue to mine sterilised desposits.
Mantashe said the government was moving to address issues including regulatory and electricity certainty and investing in "precompetitive geology".
It had allocated R268.3 million to improve the quality of geoscience information available.
"We have resolved the long-standing regulatory uncertainty in respect of the mining charter, with BEE [Black economic empowerment] ownership omitted at the exploration phase," he said.
He reportedly accused Sibanye-Stillwater of stealing its BEE compliance rating at the conference, according to Reuters, referring to compliance credits transferred from Gold Fields to Sibanye Gold along with gold assets in 2013. The company, now Sibanye-Stillwater, told the wire service it was "very confident" of its position and was engaging with the mining department.
Mantashe also said the government was tackling the barrier of access to funding, but did not refer specifically to plans mooted last month for a flow-through share scheme akin to Canada's to incentivise investment in exploration.
"As we develop a comprehensive programme to support junior miners, we will finalise work underway with development finance institutions and the private sector," he said in his address.
He reiterated a commitment to ensure transparency and short turnaround times for processing mining and prospecting licences, and said the government was working with "necessary speed" to find solutions for the country's electricity challenges.
The event in Johannesburg continues today.