Leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) Bantu Holomisa.

Johannesburg - Mechanising the Leeuwkop mine near Brits in North West is bad news for South Africans desperate for work, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said on Friday.

“The (platinum sector) strike has gone on for too long and inevitable retrenchments are looming,” Holomisa said in a statement.

He said mechanising the new mine would affect nearby communities.

Holomisa urged the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and platinum mining bosses to continue negotiations to reach an agreement soon.

Workers at Impala Platinum (Implats), Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats), and Lonmin downed tools on January 23 to push for a basic monthly salary of R12,500.

They rejected a wage offer of up to nine percent. The companies, in turn, rejected a revised demand from Amcu that the R12,500 could be achieved over four years.

Talks to resolve the strike are being mediated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration.

Earlier, Implats corporate relations group executive Johan Theron said Leeuwkop mine could become mechanised if Implats found it was more profitable that way.

“Mechanisation is one of the options we are looking at,” he said.

“We will not take the project to the board for final approval if we are not able to prove that the mine will be profitable in future.”

Leeuwkop mine would take another 10 years to build and in the meantime the company was weighing up all its options.

“We are doing a study and upfront work, but no decisions have been made yet. What we have to factor in is what labour costs will be like 10 to 15 years down the line.”

He said historically labour-intensive mining had always been considered the lower risk and cheaper option.

But this had changed in that past two to three years.

“As we do design work... it is clear that a mechanised mining operation is increasingly being seen as the lower cost, low risk option.”

Mechanisation could be more efficient, improve safety, have a more profitable life span, and cost less, he said. - Sapa