The finalisation of the mining charter gave the local sector a reprieve this year, but it did not stop key players in the industry from cutting jobs.
The ascension of Cyril Ramaphosa to president and his appointment of Gwede Mantashe as mining minister, a former mine worker and trade unionist, gave the industry someone familiar with whom to work, and eased tension between the established industry and the government after years of bitter animosity between the two parties when former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane was in office.
In a shock move, Impala Platinum said this year that it would cut 13 000 jobs over two years.
Gold Fields cut about 1 500 jobs to try to get its South Deep gold mine to turn a sustained profit.
AngloGold Ashanti and Pan African Resources, which shut its Evander underground mine with the loss of 1 635 employees, also slashed jobs at their mines this year.
Last year the entire industry directly employed 464 667, according to the Minerals Council SA (MCSA).
The three major mining sectors by employment are: platinum, gold and coal.
Last year 175 770 people were employed at platinum mines, 112 200 people worked in the gold mining sector and coal mines had a workforce of 82 248.
In a bad sign for gold mining, Stats SA announced this month that local bullion output had contracted for a 13th consecutive month in October, the longest streak of declines in six years.
Mines didn’t do so well in keeping their workers safe this year.
Charmane Russell, an MCSA spokesperson, said that as of December 18, the industry experienced 84 fatalities as a result of 61 fatal accidents, compared with 89 fatalities resulting from 82 fatal accidents last year.
Sibanye-Stillwater was the company with the highest number of fatalities at 24 by mid-August, said spokesperson James Wellsted. He could not give the company’s latest figure for mine deaths this year.
The total number of injuries across the mining industry as at December 18, was 2 273 compared with 2 644 last year, Russell said.
“This year the industry’s safety performance showed a marked improvement since the launch of the Minerals Council’s national day of safety and health in mining in August,” she said.
The Xolobeni community court ruling was one of the most important precedents in the sector and one that could be a game-changer for mining, given the rights it bestows on communities that live near mines.
According to the judgment, the mining minister now has to obtain full and formal consent from mine communities before granting a mining right.
The mining industry was beset by strikes this year with workers such as those at Gold Fields’ South Deep staging a close to six-week strike to try to reverse retrenchments at the operation; the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union members at Sibanye mines went on strike over wages.
In Mpumalanga, the Lily gold mine continued to struggle to return to operation following an accident in 2016, despite a new controlling shareholder coming in at Vantage Goldfields, which owns the mine.