JOHANNESBURG – When South Africa’s State-owned utility announced record power cuts on Monday afternoon, Impala Platinum Holdings had two hours to hoist thousands of workers from 1 km deep shafts.
The deepening crisis at debt-ridden Eskom Holdings shut down South Africa’s key mining industry for 24 hours, hitting gold and platinum producers that had been enjoying a renaissance on the back of higher metal prices. The rolling blackouts threaten to tip South Africa’s economy into recession and hobble miners already impacted by community protests and xenophobic violence.
Johannesburg-based Implats was ordered to cut electricity usage to 55 MW from about 300 MW, forcing it to reduce power to furnaces by 90% and shutting down refrigeration and compressor plants.
“It was drastic, it makes life very difficult,” said Johan Theron, a spokesman for Implats. “We can’t operate like this but if we don’t cut the power, the national grid collapses.”
“The world will still need the minerals and metals that South Africa has, but in the short term this is potentially damaging to investment prospects,” said Ross Harvey, an independent economist and mining analyst. “For as long as Eskom remains in its current state, we are not going to see the kind of investment that we need.”
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