The head of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), Joseph Mathunjwa, is to write to Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) about reports that the platinum mining company plans to sell off some of its mines in the Rustenburg area.

He is no doubt, shocked, horrified and amazed. That such a thing could even be contemplated. He had not been informed or even consulted, he complained.

When he finds that the rumour is true, you can bet your shirt he will call for nationalisation. It will be interesting how the government deals with that.

Prospective platinum mine closures must be raining on the Amcu parade, fresh as it is from “a great victory for the workers”. Hence the shock and horror.

The alarm is justified. Out-of-work miners cannot pay union dues. It means a potentially large hole in the R40 million a month that Amcu has been pulling in (according to some labour lawyers).

Mind you, with only half a dozen union employees and one office, the blow may not be too hard. Some are Mathunjwa’s relatives, so maybe they should best be called shareholders.

Such unforeseen consequences of Amcu’s five-month strike could have been avoided had Mathunjwa paid a visit to Siyathemba in Balfour, Mpumalanga.

He would have discovered that three-and-a-half years ago Siyathemba was in uproar. It was not a service delivery protest (as the government information service was quick to point out), it was aimed at the nearby Burnstone gold mine.

It was all about the mine not giving jobs to everyone who wanted one.

The Dipaleseng Municipality representative said this was why 22 people were arrested on charges of public violence, theft and arson – and why a municipal building was torched and foreign-owned shops looted.

One protester explained that the mine would be closed if it did not employ more local people as it has allegedly promised – a curious logic, to say the least. Alas, it is not uncommon.


The protesters also demanded that the mine provide houses since clearly the local and provincial governments would not.

Guess what happened next, but get no prize for knowing the answer.

The 1 400 miners lost their jobs, but for a small care and maintenance staff. The company went bankrupt. The R9m of social investments in the community came to a halt. These included 500 houses, a school for disabled children, maths and science courses, new tarred roads and sustainable agriculture training.

Such a process is being played out throughout the mining industry. The smaller ones in particular are closing down production or putting themselves up for sale to others prepared to sail the rough waters of labour relations.

Apart from union leaders’ ignorance of economic reality, our government is taking some fine far-sighted action as well. To get a mining licence companies must spend some profits on community development (in one year that meant R1.3 billion). It was not a great proportion of profits at 1.4 percent, but a tidy sum nonetheless. Now, the ANC government is planning a new tax. A marvellous and ambiguous motivation is that it is for the country’s growth and development needs. Right.

This is not the only cross mining companies have to bear (other sectors do not have such a tax imposed upon them). Electricity prices have risen far above inflation, while wages and commodity prices are falling.

Big mining houses like Amplats are still going to be around, but unions and their dues are going to take a large hit. The company will sell $4bn (R43bn) of mining assets. It will change to mechanised open-cast mining, which is safer. Some reports say that within 10 years all Amplats mines will be mechanised.

The Bushveld Igneous Complex has other potential mines that are ideal for open-cast techniques of recovery. It will require higher skills and pay higher wages. Men with pick and shovel skills or the ability to use rock drills need not apply.

Let the Siyathemba mayor have the last, sad word. “If the mine can come back it would be a big plus. They assist the municipality with projects it can’t do alone.

* Keith Bryer is a retired communications consultant.