11/01/2011 CEO of the Chamber of Mines Bheki Sibiya during a media briefing on mine safety initiatives held at their offices in JHB. (638) Photo: Leon Nicholas

Johannesburg - The mining industry is the backbone of the economy, Chamber of Mines chief executive Bheki Sibiya said on Friday.

“It is a vibrant and thriving industry and it's important because people need mineral products that come from mining,” Sibiya said.

He was speaking at a conference held at the Johannesburg County Club in Auckland Park, ahead of the upcoming mining lekgotla next week.

The third annual lekgotla, which would take place on Wednesday and Thursday, is a partnership between the Chamber of Mines, the mineral resources demartment, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

President Jacob Zuma is expected to address the lekgotla at a gala dinner on Wednesday, while Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi will also be one of the speakers.

Others speakers on Friday included Chamber of Mines president Mike Teke and NUM general secretary Frans Baleni.

Sibiya said the lekgotla was set up as platform where the chamber, together with government and unions, could find possible solutions to problems in the mining industry.

NUM national education secretary Ecliff Tantsi said at the conference the lekgotla was an important place for all stakeholders in the mining industry to gather.

“NUM is open to any creative solutions to challenges in the mining industry,” Tantsi said.

Mineral resources department director general Joel Raphela said the department welcomed and embraced important initiatives such as the lekgotla.

This year's lekgotla was important as discussions would be held around the problems and progress made in the mining industry in the past 20 years.

This sentiment was echoed by Sibiya who said that this year's lekgotla was “crucial” in relation to the five-month strike in the platinum sector.

“The strike went on for longer than any of us expected,” said Sibiya.

“It presented a form of erosion in the confidence in the mining industry.”

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union members at Lonmin, Impala Platinum, and Anglo American Platinum went on strike on January 23 demanding a basic monthly salary of R12,500.

They eventually agreed on a three-year wage deal on June 24.

In terms of the agreement, the salary of the lowest paid worker will increase by R1000 in the first two years and R950 in the third year. - Sapa