Labour unrest taking over South African mines; resources minister hammers companies

Hundreds of striking miners forced Anglo American Platinum, the world's largest producer, to halt operations at its four mines on Wednesday, as labour unrest spread in South Africa's biggest industry.

CEO Chris Griffith clarified the company’s workers are not on strike. “However, in light of the current volatile situation in the Rustenburg area, where our employees, who want to go to work, are being prevented from doing so and are being intimidated by the threat of violence, Anglo American Platinum has decided to suspend its operations in the Rustenburg area with immediate effect. The suspension will continue until such time as operations can be safely resumed,” he added.

“We are in touch with the authorities at the highest level to identify how we can work together with our tripartite partners – government and the recognised labour unions – to achieve a swift and peaceful resolution to these illegal actions,” said in a statement Chairman of Anglo American Platinum, Cynthia Carroll.

Different reports have said that over 60,000 miners did not show up for work Wednesday, adding that it is unclear how many support the strike and the demands for a higher paid and how many are just afraid of the punishment by peers if they report for duty.

In an interview with Financial Times, South Africa’s mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu (in the photo), criticized local mining companies for having been “caught napping” by an eruption of wildcat strikes and promised tight measures for mines that don’t do more to improve working conditions.

Shabangu told FT the country’s mining industry was facing its biggest challenge since the end of apartheid in 1994, adding that it was quite clear that the “sporadic” and “unilateral” industrial unrest is far from over.

“The biggest challenge I think we face as a country is when such spontaneous strikes erupt on a regular basis and one cannot predict when it’s going to happen because nothing informs it,” she said. “It’s a sad day because we’ve been talking about these things and should they [companies] really see such a situation before they respond?”

South Africa generates nearly $10 billion a year from the mining of platinum group metals (PGMs – platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium) for their value as an investment and as industrial materials.

It has almost 80% of the world’s known PGM reserves (over 2 billion ounces) and produces over 4.5m oz of platinum a year (75% of the global supply) and about 4m oz a year of the other PGMs.

The mining industry accounts for 6% of the nations’ gross domestic product, but the sector is becoming a symbol of the economic, social and political differences that continue to characterize the country.

Image: South Africa’s mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu interviewed by Africacom via YouTube

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