President Jacob Zuma during his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Picture: Screengrab

Parliament, Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma deviated from his set speech while delivering his State of the Nation Address on Thursday to warn against conflict in the mining sector.

“In no way can we have conflict that destroys the economy,” he told MPs during a joint sitting of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces.

Zuma said while mine owners sought to keep their mines running, unions, representing workers, sought to ensure good working conditions, decent wages and secure jobs for their members.

“It's very important that as we negotiate and try and find solutions, to take all these matters into account. Because in the end, if these two sides don't work together... it effects the economy of the country... We need to bear this in mind as we negotiate, as we agree on certain deals that we make.”

Zuma said he thought it important to underline this point.

“It must not be easy for someone to say 'let us strike', or for somebody to say 'I'm now reducing the workforce'.”

Earlier, he received loud applause from MPs when he touched on the matter of mineworkers' housing.

“Let me... remind mining companies that 2014 is the deadline for them to improve housing and living conditions of mineworkers...”

Zuma said South Africa needed a mining sector that worked. It employed over half-a-million people, and was the biggest earner of foreign exchange in the country. It contributed R20 billion to tax revenue.

He said government intervention in the sector involved discussions between government, mining companies, and labour.

“The purpose is to stabilise industrial relations in this very important sector of our economy. The process is yielding results.”

Strikes in the sector “were fewer and shorter last year”.

More importantly, industrial relations processes were taking place in a manner consistent with the law.