Platinum, gold, coal, diamonds, iron ore. No end in sight for SA mine strikes – by Lawrence Williams ( – October 4, 2012)

The South African mine strikes, and associated intimidation of any who wish to return to work, appear to be continuing to spread – from platinum, to gold and now to other mining sectors as well.

LONDON (MINEWEB) – Writing here on Mineweb in mid-August (Platinum mine violence impact – could it spread to gold mines too?) we commented thus on the prospect of the strikes and associated violence then being experienced on the platinum mines spreading to the country’s gold mining sector: “But, the issues which have led to the platinum mining violence are potentially mirrored in South Africa’s gold mines – an even bigger sector (just) – and the government will be hugely worried about the potential spread of mine unrest given the potentially major impact on the South African economy of a mining meltdown.

South Africa may no longer be the world’s largest gold producer – a position it held for nigh on a century, but it still remains one of the world’s biggest and disruption here could have a very negative impact on global mine supply – and again lead to the permanent closure of some of the more marginal operations, which are struggling to stay afloat even at current gold prices. The platinum and gold mines operate in a very similar manner and employ huge workforces by western standards. If the AMCU starts to move into the gold mines in a similar manner the impact could be equally destabilising.”

At the time South African labour ‘experts’, and the gold mining sector itself dismissed such a prospect, pointing out that the gold mines had a collective bargaining system in place which would prevent such disruptions occurring .

However they seemingly completely ignored the fact that the platinum mine unrest, leading to the Marikana ‘massacre’ was, initially, largely driven by dissatisfaction at the grassroots level with the dominant mining union, the NUM and a new union trying to muscle in. And, was probably aggravated by political agitators seeking to embarrass President Zuma ahead of the forthcoming ANC elections

Add Julius Malema, the firebrand populist former ANC youth wing leader to the fray with his anti-mining message calling for the mines to be made unmanageable, and his personal antagonism towards President Zuma and the strikes have indeed spread to the gold mining sector, and beyond. The industry leader, AngloGold Ashanti has had to cease work for the past two weeks at all its South African operations, while Gold Fields, the No.2 gold miner has had to shut down half of its flagship KDC mining complex.

The latest gold miners to suffer are Gold One at its Ezulwini mine and Harmony at the Kusasalethu operation with the prospect of strikes spreading to the rest of the gold mines – and there are now reports of interruptions at Petra’s Kimberley diamond mining operations, at Coal of Africa’s Mooiplats coal mine and at Kumba’s big Sishen iron ore mine (the latter said that initially production had not been affected, but has since shgut the mine down as the strikers blocakeded access to the pit). Altogether some 22 mines have shut down because of the wave of strikes.

And there looks to be no end in sight yet. Again readers of Mineweb will know we commented only a couple of weeks ago that the platinum mine labour problems were still far from over – see Platinum output disruption – It ain’t over yet – and so it has proved to be so with the largest platinum miner, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) remaining at a virtual standstill and a sense of unease still hanging over most of the Rustenburg-centred platinum mines.

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