S. Africa platinum producer threatens mine closure, loss of 14,000 jobs
Striking mineworkers protest in Marikana, South Africa, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP / Denis Farrell)
Jason Straziuso, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, January 15, 2013 11:46AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 15, 2013 12:40PM EST
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The world's largest platinum producer said Tuesday it will close some operations, sell one mine in South Africa and cut 14,000 jobs, just months after mining strikes turned violent, killing dozens of people.
Anglo American Platinum said a nearly yearlong review found that four mine shafts needed to be closed and one mine sold because of unprofitable operations. The government's minister of mines and the National Union of Mineworkers, NUM, expressed surprise and shock at the announcement.
"The NUM will engage the company in a bid to save these jobs and appeals on workers to work together to safeguard their own jobs," said NUM general secretary Frans Baleni.
A Twitter posting from NUM was less diplomatic, saying the union has repeatedly called on workers to unite and defeat the evil nature of capitalism, which seeks to put profits first and humanity last.
Some 46 people were killed during a six-week period of violent strikes at Lonmin's platinum mine last year in Marikana, South Africa, when miners demanded higher wages. In the most shocking incident, police fired into a crowd of striking miners near the Marikana mine on Aug. 16, killing 34 people.
The labour unrest spread in South Africa, and Anglo American Platinum, known locally as Amplats, saw a more than eight-week strike that crippled the giant at its operation in Rustenburg, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. The company had fired 12,000 workers and then agreed to reinstate them in October, though the miners did not return to work until November.
Amplats on Tuesday said that 13,000 of the jobs it wants to cut are in the Rustenburg region.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said Tuesday that miners and their families would be hugely affected by the cuts. She cast doubt on a plan by Anglo American Platinum to create new jobs for those cut from the workforce.
"You can't train at the tail end of everything," she said. "Those skills are not created in a sustainable way."
Anglo American Platinum said it takes its social responsibilities to its laid-off workforce seriously and would try to create 14,000 new jobs focused on housing, infrastructure and small business development.
"The platinum business has attractive underlying fundamentals, but we are facing tough decisions to restore profitability to our operations. We must evolve to align the business with our expectations of the platinum market's long-term dynamics and address the structural changes that have eroded profitability over time," said Chris Griffith, Anglo American Platinum's chief executive.
The mining industry is a huge part of the economy in South Africa, which is the world's largest producer of platinum, gold and chromium. Most mine workers who carry out manual labour are black. The South African Institute of Race Relations says that the unemployment rate for black South Africans was nearly 41 per cent in 2012, while the corresponding rate for white South Africans was 7.5 per cent.