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Platinum belt unrest: Joint ops centre to open soon

Business Maverick

BUSINESS MAVERICK

Platinum belt unrest: Joint ops centre to open soon

Amcu members protest during the union's lengthy 2015 strike in the platinum industry. (Photo: Greg Nicolson)

The eastern limb of South Africa’s platinum belt is seething with unrest. The Minerals Council said in 2019 it planned to set up a joint operations centre with the police there to monitor unrest and hopefully nip it in the bud. It now appears the centre will open in March.

The Limpopo town of Burgersfort is set to host a joint operations centre, a partnership between the police and the mining industry, in one of SA’s most volatile regions. The Minerals Council said on Monday 3 February at the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, that the centre, which is being set up in a former clinic, should go live from early March. 

“It has been a bit of a slow start; we had hoped to have it opened last year,” said Tebello Chabana, the senior executive for public affairs and transformation at the Minerals Council. “We know the hot spots and will have cameras in place to help gather intelligence that the police can use.” 

“Engagement forums” are also being rolled out in the area. The forums are like a community outreach programme where residents will presumably have a chance to air their grievances. 

There must be plenty of grievances. In April 2018, Reuters reported that over the course of 2016, 2017 and the first three months of 2018, the region had been hit by more than 400 incidents of social unrest that affected mining operations. These included 225 roadblocks, 107 illegal marches, and 40 wildcat strikes.

Things have since gone from bad to worse, even as the platinum industry itself has turned a corner to become more profitable while averting a strike during wage talks last year. According to Minerals Council data, for all of 2018, there were around 260 such incidents in the region, and in the first six months of 2019, 330 – a staggering number. That is almost two incidents a day. 

The target and sources of the discontent vary: shoddy government service delivery and unemployment are probably the main causes. There are also turf wars over local procurement contracts, with union rivalry simmering in the background. It remains to be seen if the operations centre and other initiatives will help douse the flames of social unrest. The centre could become a target of discontent. BM

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