More platinum wealth lies beneath South African soil than anywhere else on Earth, and for decades the companies that extracted the precious metal promised to help improve the lives of the impoverished people who live above their mines. Those communities are getting tired of waiting.
Demonstrations by residents around mines — many living in improvised shacks without running water — have disrupted operations run by producers including Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., Lonmin Plc and African Rainbow Minerals Ltd.
The protesters demanded jobs and money, saying that investments outside of the mines haven’t been enough. Last month, a bus that ferries Lonmin workers was torched, forcing the company to halt operations at two shafts.
While South Africa’s mining industry is no stranger to social unrest, the latest clashes are heaping more pressure on a business already squeezed by prices that are about half what they were in 2010. Companies say they support local economic development but have limited scope to hire and invest until profits improve. South Africa produces about 70 percent of the world’s platinum, which is used in jewelry and mostly as a catalyst to reduce auto-engine emissions.
“The mines don’t appreciate how upset people are,” said Vladimir Mogale, a spokesman for the Bapo Ba Mogale community, which lives close to Lonmin’s Marikana mine. “People feel like they have to burn a bus to get a response.” Mogale said he condemns any violence.
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