Home » Sibanye Set for May Restart, Marikana Shaft Closure Confirmed

Sibanye Set for May Restart, Marikana Shaft Closure Confirmed

Siphumelele Ready to Operate, Marikana Faces Tough Shutdown

by Adenike Adeodun

Sibanye-Stillwater, a multinational mining and metals processing company, is gearing up for the reopening of its Siphumelele shaft in Rustenburg, scheduled for May this year. This decision comes after the shaft suffered significant setbacks in February when a key component of the ore handling system, the ore collector bin, detached from the shaft headgear and plummeted to the ground, necessitating a halt in operations. The damage extended to the surface ore conveyor belt system, integral to the shaft’s functionality.

The incident led to the immediate suspension of production, and employees were sent on leave pending assessments and repair work. By April 15, repair efforts had progressed sufficiently to allow employees to return for start-up procedures, setting the stage for a timely resumption of production.

In contrast to the promising outlook at Siphumelele, Sibanye has also announced the closure of the 4 Belt (4B) shaft at its Marikana operation. This decision was influenced by the shaft’s failure to meet profitability criteria established during the Section 189A process in October of the previous year. The 4B shaft, despite having limited remaining economic reserves, has been a point of contention due to its ongoing financial losses, which have adversely impacted the overall viability of Sibanye’s South African platinum group metal (PGM) operations.

Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye, expressed the difficulty of the decision, emphasizing that such measures are never taken lightly. He also highlighted the efforts to minimize the impact on employees: “We cannot continue to absorb ongoing losses, which in turn affects the viability of the rest of the South African PGM operations to the detriment of all stakeholders.”

The workforce adjustments at the 4B shaft were significant yet handled with a focus on reducing involuntary separations. Of the 1,496 employees working at the shaft, 226 departed due to natural attrition. An additional 469 were successfully transferred to other PGM operations within Sibanye, helping preserve their employment. Meanwhile, 643 employees opted for voluntary separation or early retirement packages, a move that likely mitigated the harsher impacts of job loss.

Despite these measures, the closure still led to 93 fixed-term contracts not being renewed and the outright retrenchment of 65 employees. Additionally, contracts with 54 contractors were terminated, underscoring the extensive economic and human cost of closing a mining shaft.

The contrasting scenarios at Siphumelele and Marikana highlight the complex decisions mining companies like Sibanye must navigate in maintaining profitability while also managing the socio-economic impacts on their workforce and communities. While the reopening of the Siphumelele shaft marks a positive development, promising renewed employment and economic activity, the closure of the 4B shaft at Marikana casts a shadow, reflecting the ongoing challenges within the mining sector.

The strategic decision to close the less profitable 4B shaft while focusing on revitalizing more viable assets like Siphumelele could be seen as a necessary recalibration in response to global economic pressures and the specific dynamics of the platinum group metals market. However, it also serves as a reminder of the volatility and unpredictability inherent in the mining industry, where changes in market conditions or operational setbacks can swiftly alter the fortunes of operations and, by extension, the communities and individuals reliant on them.

As Sibanye continues to adapt to these challenges, the focus on limiting forced retrenchments and facilitating transitions for affected employees reflects a commitment to responsible corporate behavior. Nonetheless, the events at Siphumelele and Marikana are indicative of the broader industry trend towards optimizing operations in the face of fluctuating demand and prices for precious metals.

Looking forward, the mining sector’s ability to balance operational efficiency with ethical considerations and community impact will remain a critical aspect of its social license to operate. For companies like Sibanye, this means not only making tough decisions regarding operational viability but also engaging in transparent and empathetic communication with all stakeholders, ensuring that even in times of transition or downturn, the dignity and livelihood of employees are prioritized.


Source: Mining Weekly

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