S. Africa’s Amplats to shed mines, 14,000 jobs – by Ed Stoddard (Globe and Mail – January 15, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

JOHANNESBURG — Reuters – Anglo American Platinum, the world’s top platinum producer, said it will mothball two South African mines, sell another and cut 14,000 jobs, risking a repeat of last year’s strikes when about 50 people died.

In a review announced on Tuesday that is seen as crucial to reviving the fortunes of Anglo American, which owns about 80 per cent of Amplats, the platinum producer said it aimed to cut output by around a fifth or 400,000 ounces.

But analysts have cautioned the cut could be overstated, as it is based on production capacity that Rustenburg mines have not matched for several years. Against forecast production, the cuts may amount to closer to 300,000 ounces.

Amplats has said it probably fell to a full-year loss because of the 2012 strikes, which were centred on Rustenburg where most of the job cuts will fall. The price of platinum rose over 2 per cent to 3-month highs, leaping past gold for the first since March last year, on concerns over supply.

Reaction was swift, with an Amplats labour leader threatening a strike across its South African operations if the indefinite closures, when they would be put on “care and maintenance”, go ahead.

“If they put any shaft on care and maintenance, all of the operations will go on strike. Nothing like this will be allowed,” said Evans Ramogka, labour leader in Rustenburg.

Activists brought many of South Africa’s platinum and gold mines to a standstill last year in a wave of violent wildcat strikes. The unrest, rooted in a union turf war and aggravated by income disparities within the industry and low wages for dangerous work.

Around 50 people were killed in the violence that was unleashed including 34 striking miners at platinum producer Lonmin who were shot dead by police in August in the deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.

If 14,000 jobs are lost, it will represent about 3 per cent of South Africa’s mine labour force and set back government efforts to cut unemployment from over 25 per cent.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is losing support among mine workers before general elections next year. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a base of ANC electoral support, is rapidly losing members to the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and other groups.

“As the NUM we are extremely disturbed by these job losses and we are asking workers to be united to defend their jobs,” NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni told Reuters.

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