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Thousands of Miners Protest Underground at Implats’ Platinum Mine

The illegal action poses serious safety concerns and disrupts the operations of one of the world’s largest platinum producers.

by Motoni Olodun

Thousands of miners have staged an illegal sit-in at two shafts of the Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine (BRPM) in South Africa, owned by Impala Platinum (Implats), one of the world’s largest platinum producers. The protest, which began on Monday, has forced the company to suspend production at the affected shafts, as the workers’ demands remain unclear.

The BRPM mine, which was acquired by Implats earlier this year from Royal Bafokeng Platinum, produced about 266,000 ounces of platinum group metals (PGMs) in its 2022 financial year. The mine employs about 7,000 people and contributes to the local economy and social development of the Bafokeng community.

According to Implats, the protest action poses serious safety concerns for the employees, who have remained underground without adequate nutrition, hydration, and ablution facilities. The company also warned that the protest could escalate into violence or hostage situations, as has happened in other mining operations in South Africa in recent months.

The protest comes at a time when the South African mining industry is facing multiple challenges, including low metal prices, high operating costs, labor unrest, regulatory uncertainty, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Implats said the protest action further imperiled the economic viability of its mining operations and the sustainable employment of its workforce.

The company said it was engaging with the relevant stakeholders, including the unions, the government, and the Bafokeng authorities, to resolve the situation peacefully and restore normal operations as soon as possible. It also urged the protesters to respect the rule of law and the rights of other employees who wished to work.

The BRPM protest is the latest in a series of illegal underground sit-ins that have occurred in the South African mining sector this year. In February, about 1,800 workers at the Bakubung platinum mine, owned by Wesizwe Platinum, staged a similar protest over wages and working conditions. In March, about 1,500 workers at the Modder East gold mine, owned by Gold One, also held an underground sit-in over bonuses and retrenchments.

These protests reflect the deep-rooted grievances and frustrations of the mining workers, who often face harsh and hazardous working environments, low wages, job insecurity, and poor living conditions. They also highlight the need for more dialogue and cooperation between the mining companies, the unions, the government, and the communities to address the social and economic challenges facing the industry and the country.

The South African mining sector, which accounts for about 8% of the country’s GDP and employs about 450,000 people, is a vital source of revenue and foreign exchange for the economy. It is also a key driver of innovation and development in various fields, such as engineering, geology, metallurgy, and environmental management. The sector has the potential to contribute to the country’s growth, transformation, and social development if managed responsibly and sustainably.

However, to achieve this potential, the sector needs to overcome the legacy of its past, which has been marked by exploitation, inequality, conflict, and environmental degradation. It also needs to adapt to the changing global and local dynamics, which require more efficiency, competitiveness, diversification, and social responsibility. The sector needs to embrace a new vision and a new culture, based on mutual respect, trust, collaboration, and shared value creation.

The BRPM protest is a wake-up call for the sector to rethink its future and its role in society. It is also an opportunity for the sector to demonstrate its commitment to the well-being of its workers, the environment, and the communities. By working together, the sector can overcome its challenges and realize its opportunities, for the benefit of all stakeholders and the country as a whole.

Source: Miningmx

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