WORKERS at the Rustenburg operations of Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) refused to go underground for overnight shifts in a protest against the company’s plans to close mines, a labour leader said on Wednesday.
"They didn’t go underground," said Evans Ramokga, a labour leader and activist at the Rustenburg mine, about 120km northwest of Johannesburg.
A company spokeswoman said she could not immediately comment because she was waiting for an operational update from mine managers.
Workers were expected to meet later to plot wider strike action after Amplats, a unit of global mining group Anglo American, unveiled plans on Tuesday to mothball two South African mines, sell another and cut 14,000 jobs.
Amplats, the world’s largest platinum producer, said the initiatives were needed to restore profits. But the company also risks provoking a repeat of last year’s violent wildcat strikes in the mining industry that left more than 50 people dead.
The company said on Monday it was likely to fall to a full-year loss because of last year’s costly strikes.
It is investing R890m over five years in job-creation schemes to offset the retrenchments it has proposed to trade unions.
The cost of the retrenchments, care and maintenance of four shafts and the job-creation plan is R3.2bn. Amplats committed to R100bn in capital expenditure over the next decade, a 25% drop from its earlier intentions.
It estimates it will save R3.8bn a year if it implements its cost-cutting plans.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu on Tuesday accused Amplats of failing to consult her department about its cost cutting, which would have enormous social ramifications.
On Wednesday, speaking on radio station SAfm, Ms Shabangu accused Amplats CEO Chris Griffith of arrogance.
"Listen to this, the arrogance of Chris," she said. "He said in his statement he’s going to talk to labour. And he’s not going to talk to government? He’s not going to talk to us as the regulator ... leave government out? Well, we have procedures we have to follow."
The minister said Amplats needed to have more consultations and was in contravention of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.
Asked whether the company’s mining licence was under threat, Ms Shabangu replied: "It’s themselves who are putting their licence in jeopardy — not us, themselves."
SAfm also interviewed Mr Griffith, who said he "clearly" needed to go back to the minister. "I can hear she’s angry and perhaps have some sympathy with that. What I clearly can’t do, and don’t want to do, is have a tit-for-tat with the minister on the radio.
"I need to go back to the minister, sit down with her and her team, and work through what the issues are and see how we can rectify that.
"I don’t think that I’ve been arrogant and I don’t think that our company has been arrogant.... The fact is that we have engaged with the ability that we have, the range of scope we have to engage, before we make all the processes public. If the minister is unhappy, we need to go back to her, back to her team and sit down and work through that process."
The African National Congress (ANC) also condemned Amplats’ plan to cut thousands of jobs in Rustenburg, an area where unemployment is already high.
"This decision is cynical and dangerous in the extreme," ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said on Tuesday. "This decision is part of a strategy to divest its business from South Africa and relegate the mines in South Africa to ‘dogs’.
"We call on the minister of minerals and energy to call an urgent meeting of the industry with a view to considering the idea that companies who want to mothball shafts surrender their licences in respect of those shafts so that they can be put on a public auction for new owners who are still hungry to mine to put them to good use."
With Reuters, Sapa and Allan Seccombe