(Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane and Judge of the Constitutional Court, Justice Johann van der Westhuizen). President Jacob Zuma during the swearing-in Ceremony of New Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane at the Union Buidings in Pretoria. South Africa. 23/09/2015. Siyabulela Duda

Johannesburg/Pretoria - South Africa’s mining minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, said on Thursday that 77 workers were killed in mining accidents in 2015, the lowest number on record and down from 84 in 2014.

South Africa's mines are the deepest and among the most dangerous in the world, but industry fatalities have been falling, a trend rooted in improved safety practices and a shrinking labour force as production declines.

Mining companies in SA, the world’s biggest platinum and manganese producer, have informed the nation’s mines ministry of intentions to cut about 32 000 jobs as prices decline, Zwane added.

“Commodity prices have fallen for quite some time and that is causing problems in term of jobs and restructuring,” he told reporters on Thursday in Pretoria. “We are engaging with companies to try and see how best we can deal with that situation in a responsible way.”

Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore unit is the latest producer to announce potential job cuts, saying it plans to reduce its staff and contractors by about 3 900 after prices for the steelmaking ingredient dropped almost 40 percent last year. Plunging commodity prices are adding to pressure on an industry struggling with regulatory changes and unreliable power supplies, and some of the country’s biggest mining companies are threatening to cut jobs.

Mitigation efforts

Mining accounts for more than half of the nation’s exports and employs about 440 000 people, a critical source of jobs in a nation with a 25-percent unemployment rate.

The department will seek to mitigate job cuts by transferring workers to other mines, re-skilling employees and asking companies if they can cut costs in other ways, Zwane said.

“Where there are job losses, we’ll put in mechanisms to deal with that situation,” he said. “We’re going to do everything possible in our power to try and control the situation until the price of commodities improves.”

Section 52 of the country’s mineral resources law obliges companies to inform the minister if 10 percent of a workforce or more than 500 people are likely to lose their jobs in a year.