Gold miners’ strike expected t

South Africa, Free State, Welkom, Harmony Gold Mine, 2008: Phakisa shaft and headgear. Photograph by Graeme Williams

Gold miners’ strike expected to cost South Africa £22 million a day

The National Union of Mineworkers’ fight against “slave wages” adds pressure on South Africa’s already ailing economy as 80,000 workers take part in industrial action.

Gold miners’ strike expected t

South Africa, Free State, Welkom, Harmony Gold Mine, 2008: Phakisa shaft and headgear. Photograph by Graeme Williams

mine (Medium)AS South African gold miners nationwide walked out on Tuesday, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) released a statement noting the “devastating” impact the strike will have on the economy. However, it added that this is “largely a white man’s economy with no benefits for poor black mineworkers”.

Miners walked out from their shifts on Tuesday evening and most are yet to return as the NUM continue to call for a pay rise for them, although Sibanye Gold workers have resumed work at Kloof mine near Johannesburg. Initially demanding a 60% increase in salaries, some reports suggest this has now been scaled down to 10%. The union argues that the 6.5% rise employers are offering is akin to “slave wages” and shows the arrogance of mine owners.

The NUM represents approximately 64% of SA’s 120,000 gold miners and spokesman Lesiba Seshoka has said that the current industrial action will “change the gold mining landscape forever”.

While stoppages in the mining sector have become a frequent occurrence during annual wage negotiations, this year they come at a time of sluggish growth and amid a wave of crippling strikes across the country in the construction and vehicle manufacturing industries. The rand is at a four-year low and many believe the walkouts are to blame for the poor state of the economy.

South Africa’s gold industry is one of the biggest in the world, but has been in decline in recent years. In 1978 it produced 68% of the world’s gold- a figure which has shrunk significantly over the past couple of decades. Last year the country generated just 6% of the world total.

As a result, employers have called demands for pay rises unrealistic and given stark warnings about the future. Companies continue to dig ever deeper in order to extract gold, meaning their production costs have soared. Estimates show that the present strike could cost South Africa £22 million a day in lost output. This could lead to mine closures and job losses because of the fall in the price of bullion.

The mining industry has been hit by a number of crises in recent times and some fear the latest may lead to more violence. Tensions are still running high a year after police opened fire on protesting platinum miners in Marikana, killing 34 and injuring 78.

The government is now urging the union and the captains of industry to come to an agreement soon. With elections taking place next year, they hope to contain labour unrest as quickly and peacefully as possible.

President Jacob Zuma announced, “We appeal that the two parties must find one another because a protracted strike is not helpful to the country nor to the industry itself. Both sides must be ready to give and to take as well”.