South Africa mining production up thanks to iron ore, diamonds

Despite ongoing labour unrest, mining production in South Africa is picking up, as the figures for January, released Thursday by Statistics South Africa, showed a 7.3% increase compared to the same period last year.

The news surprised analysts, who had predicted a decline of 4.2%, in light of a few wild strikes and the fact that the country’s mining output fell 8.9% last December.

Driving the production boost figured iron ore and diamonds. The steel-making commodity was up 33.4% in January, contributing 4.8 points of the percentage change. Diamond output jumped 55% compared to Jan. 2012, which represents a one percentage point to the total mining surge. I

On the down side, gold dragged the number down by 1.3%, with the “other metallic minerals” category —the only other negative contributor— at 0.7%.

Bullion was also the biggest strain on December mineral sales, followed by platinum group metals and coal.

However, that didn’t derail the overall mining increase, as mineral sales rose 10% in December from November, after climbing 2.5% in November and falling 4.2% in October.

South Africa’s mining production data has been closely watched for indications of whether the sector was recovering from last year’s extensive and, at times, violent illegal strikes.