Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

SOUTH African mining shares, which account for 24% of the country’s stock market weighting, fell to their lowest in almost seven months on Wednesday as commodity prices fell on weak demand prospects.

"Continuous uncertainty around labour issues means that generally‚ sentiment around gold and other metals remains negative," said Ferdi Heyneke‚ a portfolio manager at Afrifocus. "Gold is not attracting any safe haven status at the moment."

The 19-member FTSE/JSE Africa mining index retreated 2.6% and closed at its weakest level since September last year.

BHP Billiton, with a 47% weighting in the mining gauge, fell 2.5% to its weakest level since the beginning of October.

Anglo American lost as much as 2.4% to its lowest intra-day level since October 2009.

Africa’s biggest economy and host to the world’s highest platinum reserves in the Rustenburg region is facing low demand from emerging countries, labour unrest and higher energy costs.

Commodity prices were lower across the board. Gold fell for a second day, losing 0.6% to $1,566.88/oz, its lowest since February.

Platinum was also down for a second day, falling 1.3% to its lowest since the first week of January.

"I am not convinced that there will be higher demand from big consumer countries like China until next year," Brandon Sacks, a trader at Johannesburg-based Avior Research, said by phone.

Further denting sentiment towards miners was reports of illegal strike activity at the Ghana operations of Africa’s third-biggest gold miner, Gold Fields.

The miner said employees at its Tarkwa and Damang mines had embarked on illegal industrial action, which had led to production at both mines being suspended.

Shares in the miner closed 5.3% lower at their lowest level since November 2008.

The dispute relates to the determination of profit share payments to workers; the reinstatement of an employee who was dismissed following an internal disciplinary procedure; dissatisfaction with certain management structures; the removal of certain members of senior management; and allegations of discrimination between expatriate and Ghanaian employees, among other issues, the company said.

The fall in mining stocks led the 166-member FTSE/JSE Africa all share index to its biggest decline in a week. The index closed 1.6% weaker to 39,414.34 points, its weakest level since the end of February.

With Bronwyn Nortje and Bloomberg