ArcelorMittal’s South Africa unit said on Monday it would close its steel operations at Saldanha Works because it could no longer compete in export markets. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency
Cape Town - It’s going to be a Black Christmas for the people of Saldanha Bay this year with lay-offs at the ill-fated ArcelorMittal plant in the town set for January next year.

Politicians, union leaders and businesspeople were on Tuesday united in the belief that the closing of the ArcelorMittal plant had ruined the festive season for all the people of Saldanha.

As Solidarity union organiser Johan Venter prepared to travel from Gauteng to Saldanha Bay on Tuesday, he said: “It will be a black, heartsore Christmas for the people in Saldanha.

“As a union we don’t have much to tell the people that they do not already know, but I am going to lend moral support where I can during this time.

“The closure will be bad for the entire West Coast.”

Bianca Makanya, a Saldanha Bay municipality councillor, said: “It’s a terrible Christmas that the people in Saldanha are facing.

“Not only are the actual workers affected, but the ripple effect of the closure will affect everyone.

“This is the problem with privatisation. The government built this factory and people were happy because they believed they would never be in this situation of mass unemployment again.

“When they sold it to ArcelorMittal that was privatisation and you know businesses don’t care what happens when they leave,” said Makanya.

ANC spokesperson for finance and economic opportunities in the Western Cape, Nomi Nkondlo, said: “Obviously panic will have set in already in the community as workers discuss their looming unemployment status with their families and the impact on things such as schooling and even Christmas will be sad for them.”

“I wrote to the standing committee on finance, economic opportunities and tourism chairperson Deidré Baartman requesting that the standing committee convene an urgent meeting with stakeholders and/or do a site visit to engage with all the affected, especially the workers,” said Nkondlo.

Cape Chamber of Commerce president Geoff Jacobs said: “The closing of the ArcelorMittal plant is a heavy blow to the men and women and their families who worked there.

“At a time when jobs are at a premium, when the national economy is sluggish at best, such job losses are doubly tragic, with a ripple effect on the local economy,” said Jacobs.

Solidarity’s deputy general secretary for the metal and engineering industry, Willie Venter, said: “We’ve already received enquiries from our members about how they will make it through. Things are looking bad.

They were looking forward to Christmas but now they are devastated. We were aware of the fact that Amsa (ArcelorMittalSA) is facing major challenges in Saldanha with high-input costs, a declining export market and government’s economic policies, but such a drastic step gives rise to major concerns.”

But Gerhard Papenfus, chief executive of the National Employers Association of SA (Neasa) said: “Although it is unfortunate... the reality is that, in respect of protectionist duties on steel imports, government will have to choose between the protection of an unprofitable, struggling ArcelorMittalSA, employing 900 employees, or breaking the stranglehold that these duties have on the steel downstream (in many sectors), employing in excess of 500000 employees.

“ A primary steel producer has a place in the South African steel market providing that its presence is not to the detriment of the steel downstream, but makes a positive contribution to the growth of the sector.”

@MwangiGithahu

[email protected]

Cape Argus