In a pre-emptive move to avoid the labour violence that has swept across mines in the past five weeks, Anglo American Platinum (Angloplat) shut down its Rustenburg operations yesterday until it is deemed safe to resume production.
The disruption of supply caused by strife at local mines has sent the platinum price soaring. It rose 2.4 percent to a five-week high of $1 644 (R13 780) an ounce at the afternoon fix in London yesterday. Analysts forecast that the price of the metal would rise to $2 000 in the next nine months.
It was not clear by last night whether Angloplat, the biggest platinum producer, would pay its workers for the time out, but the Anglo American subsidiary said it had suspended operations to protect its employees against outside intimidation.
“The suspension will continue until such time as operations can be safely resumed,” Angloplat chief executive Chris Griffith said yesterday.
The suspension will put more strain on Angloplat, which announced plans in July to retrench 727 employees due to constraints resulting from a subdued platinum price, rising stockpiles and uncertainty in the euro zone. The shares fell 4.05 percent to R417.50.
Angloplat chairwoman Cynthia Carroll said the company’s Rustenburg operations were already under financial pressure, and the longer the suspension lasted, the more its long-term viability would be threatened.
An analyst who declined to be named said the effectiveness of Angloplat’s move depended on its duration.
“It is encouraging to see Angloplat is trying to control the spread of wildcat strikes. But it is going to depend on how long the suspension lasts whether they will be negatively affected. They can make up production if it continues for a week, but if it lasts for a month we can start to worry about the company,” he said.
Earlier yesterday, thousands of protesters gathered at the company’s Thembelani mine near Rustenburg demanding salaries of R12 500 a month, the same demand made by their colleagues at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, where 45 people have been killed since the protests began on August 10.
Mpumi Sithole, the spokeswoman for Angloplat, said 3 000 employees had been “re-directed” to another location, away from the mine, for their own safety following reports of intimidation.
“To ensure the safety and security of our employees, management took the decision to re-direct employees to a neutral place,” Sithole said.
Lonmin said 1.8 percent of its 28 000 employees reported to work yesterday.
Sue Vey, a Lonmin spokeswoman, denied rumours that the company had dismissed striking employees.
“There is no ultimatum or deadline on the table. We are focusing on negotiations and we have no intention to dismiss employees,” she said.
Lonmin has lost 2 500 platinum ounces since 3 000 rock drill operators downed tools a month ago.
An estimated 5 000 protesters said yesterday that they were also monitoring smelters to ensure that all workers stayed away from work.
It was reported yesterday that striking Lonmin mineworkers, gathered at their usual spot near the Nkaneng informal settlement at Marikana, announced that they had formed a “war committee” with other North West platinum mineworkers.
Mineworkers from Angloplat’s Bleskop mine are part of the war committee formed by the striking Lonmin miners.
Meanwhile, the wildcat strike involving 15 000 employees of Gold Fields’ Kloof and Driefontein Complex (KDC) West operation continued yesterday.
Protesters threw stones at contract workers, while employees at the mine’s training centre were intimidated, company spokesman Sven Lunsche said. “We are hoping to respond to the demands of the employees” either yesterday or today, he added.
KDC West employees downed tools on Sunday night to demand salaries of R12 500.
The unprotected strike at KDC West followed a similar action by 12 000 employees at the KDC East operation that ended last week. They were protesting against the R70 mandatory funeral benefit deduction and calling for the removal of the branch leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Sapa