Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

AN ILLEGAL strike by 12,500 miners at Gold Fields’ Kloof Driefontein Complex gold mine has sparked fears that the labour disruptions and violence that have brought parts of SA’s platinum sector to a standstill seem to be spreading to SA’s gold mines.

Management did not expect the strike, which began last Wednesday, to have ended by the start of last night’s shift. The wildcat strike was ostensibly called over a mandatory funeral policy payment — to include family members in the scheme — and dissatisfaction over the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM’s) local branch.

"That was just a red herring. We dealt with that up front but the strike continued. It’s about worker unhappiness with NUM’s branch leadership," Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland said yesterday.

Gold Fields said on Friday that it had been granted an interdict to end the strike, which started on Wednesday evening at the eastern part of its Kloof Driefontein Complex — a 1.1-million-ounce -a-year gold mine. The eastern section generates 1,600oz of gold a day, or half of the mine’s annual output.

Gold Fields’ stock fell as much as 7.7% on news of the strike. It ended Friday’s session 2.82% down at R101.03.

Gold Fields, which is in talks with the Chamber of Mines over the strike, is appealing to Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu to help it find a resolution, Mr Holland said.

"We want to get all the stakeholders together. This affects us all, the Department of Mineral Resources, organised labour, Gold Fields and the mining sector."

Ms Shabangu has held meetings with the sector over the issues that led to 44 deaths in an illegal strike at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine that was marked by violence and intimidation.

"It appears that the first instance of labour unrest spreading from the platinum sector to the gold sector has happened, as we’d feared," analysts Steve Shepherd and Allan Cooke of JP Morgan Cazenove said on Friday.

"It’s impossible to call … if this labour unrest will spread or not, how long it will continue, or speculate about potential outcomes at this early stage. This is unfortunate, but not completely unexpected ," they said.

"Tactically, we’d prefer the gold ETF (exchange-traded fund) to South African gold shares in this uncertain environment," the two analysts said.

Overseas funds regarded SA as an "investor-unfriendly" destination and were reluctant to put money into South African companies, Pan African Resources CEO Jan Nelson said last week.

The strike at Marikana, which is entering its fourth week, is one of a string of extremely disruptive labour actions on the platinum belt, with Impala Platinum, the world’s second-largest producer, losing R2.8bn in revenue after a six-week strike in February.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said the labour unrest in the platinum sector was spilling over into the gold mines. "The issues at Marikana are overflowing. It’s quite clear that this wave of new developments on the platinum mines is coming down on us at the gold mines," he said yesterday.

Issues raised by strikers at Kloof, including unhappiness over the funeral policy and the NUM’s branch leadership, were just a "smokescreen", he said, and that there were political opportunists stirring up workers around the Gold Fields mine.

Julius Malema, who was not seen in the vicinity, last week visited unpaid workers at the suspended Grootvlei gold mine, which was grossly mismanaged by Aurora Empowerment Systems and subsequently sold to Gold One in a deal that has yet to be concluded.

The arch-proponent of nationalising SA’s mines during his tenure as president of the African National Congress Youth League, Mr Malema called last week for mines to be made ungovernable "until the Boers come to the table".

The events at Kloof mirror those at Lonmin in May last year, when a dispute between the NUM’s Rustenburg regional branch and the leadership of the branch representing workers at Lonmin’s Karee mine resulted in an illegal strike and the dismissal of 9,000 workers.

It led to an exodus of workers to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), a more hard-line union.

It gave Amcu a critical foothold on a platinum mine near Rustenburg.

Mr Holland said Gold Fields had no indication that another union was behind the strike.

"All the indications we can see are that this is a localised issue between members of our workforce and NUM’s branch leadership."

Gold Fields’ primary concern is the safety of its workers, he said.

Mr Baleni said he had fielded calls from miners who said they wanted to return to work, but they were being intimidated into staying away.