Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi. Picture: Timothy Bernard

Johannesburg - Talks aimed at ending a crippling five-month walkout at the world's largest platinum producers collapsed on Monday after the South African government pulled out of mediation efforts between mine owners and striking workers.

“There is no solution for now,” mines ministry spokesman Mahlodi Muofhe told AFP.

“The resolution was that the parties have the capacity to continue talking to each other,” he said. “But the minister (Ngoako Ramatlhodi) has disengaged now from the talks.”

The negotiations “have unfortunately been dissolved without an outcome”, producers Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin said in a statement.

The mine operators said they were “committed to a negotiated settlement” but “will now review further options”.

Union leader Joseph Mathunjwa said the breakdown in talks meant the strike - the longest in South Africa's history - would continue.

After months on the sidelines, the government stepped in at the end of May to try to break the deadlock between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the mining firms.

This followed several rounds of failed negotiations to find a compromise between the platinum companies and miners, who want the minimum monthly basic wage doubled.

Around 80 000 platinum mine workers downed tools at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin on January 23, and by the end of this week the strike will have cost the industry more than a third of its annual production.

The walkout helped push the South African economy at the start of the year into its first quarterly contraction since the global economic crisis five years ago.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance said the government could ill afford to abandon the talks.

“This is no time for the minister to run and hide,” it said in a statement.

The stoppages have cost employers R22 billion in revenue while workers have forfeited about R10 billion in wages and benefits, according to industry figures.

The strike has already affected 45 percent of global platinum supply, according to the firms mining the world's largest reserves of the metal, which is used to make jewellery and catalytic converters in cars.

The ruling African National Congress claimed the strike was fuelled by political motives.

“It is a signal, small as it may sound, of foreign forces taking an active interest in destabilising South Africa and its economy,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said at the weekend.

Mantashe also alleged that a senior official in the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, had been directly involved in wage negotiations between mine owners and unions.

But the EFF said it was “unapologetic” in its support for miners' demands and dismissed allegations of foreign involvement in negotiations as “cheap”. - AFP