New S.Africa mines minister faces platinum baptism of fire – by Zandi Shabalala (Reuters U.K. – September 23, 2015)

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 23 (Reuters) – For South Africa’s new mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane, until now a little-known provincial agriculture official, it was not the ideal first day in the office.

Taking over a sector already bleeding jobs due to the commodity price slump, Zwane was confronted with the price of platinum, one of South Africa’s most valuable exports, hitting a 6-1/2 year low due to the Volkswagen emissions tests scandal.

The concern is that any European consumer backlash against diesel cars, which use platinum in catalytic converters, could torpedo already shaky demand for the white metal, nearly all of which is produced in South Africa.

Platinum’s biggest daily drop in two years is a stark reminder of what lies in store for Zwane as he tries to walk a line between hostile unions, hardline communists in the ruling ANC and mining firms that have done little to change their ways since the end of apartheid two decades ago.

And the platinum sector is still reeling from a five-month strike, the longest in South African history, last year that has forced shaft closures and mine sales.

Given that ousted minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, known for his no-nonsense approach, was credited with helping mediate an end to that strike, analysts and mining executives are questioning President Jacob Zuma’s wisdom in pushing him out.

Zwane’s previous jobs, which include stints as provincial minister for agriculture and rural development in the Free State, do little to boost confidence in the future of a sector that accounts for 7 percent of South African GDP.

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