Business Maverick

MINING

A Diamond is Forever: Anglo says some mines to operate, NUM slams move as ‘inhuman’

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

It seems a diamond is forever. Anglo American has detailed which of its operations will continue production during the 21-day lockdown and which will operate with reduced staffing levels. The National Union of Mineworkers says this is a ‘reckless and inhuman’ pursuit of profit.

Anglo American said on Friday, 27 March that a number of its mining operations would continue in South Africa but at greatly reduced staffing levels.

In a statement, the company said Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen and Kolomela mines would remain operational with a 50% reduction in staff. Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats) open-pit  Mogalakwena mine – which is its main cash spinner – and the mechanised Mototolo mine will also keep working with reduced staff and production. Its underground mines and Mortimer and Waterfall smelters will be placed on “care and maintenance”, which means they will cease production but some services will continue so the operations can be rebooted quickly and safely. 

De Beers’ Venetia mine will operate with staff levels cut to 25%, without mentioning production. A reduced workforce of that size might be necessary to maintain security, among other things. Anglo’s coal mines that provide Eskom and Sasol’s fuel production facility will also operate at reduced staffing and production levels. 

Interestingly, Anglo also said that: “The rail and port logistics infrastructure to support the export of iron ore and coal is expected to continue to service the operations during this period.” Perhaps as China slowly reboots it is looking for such commodities again. 

Anglo American clearly has the regulatory green light to take these measures, which seem to seek a balance between protecting public health while supporting the “limited economic activity” that Mines and Energy Minister Gwede Manatahse spoke about. It goes without saying that these are uncharted waters and things can change quickly. 

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is not impressed.

“It is worrying and disturbing that Anglo American is still operating on reduced staff. It shows that this company doesn’t care about the lives of its employees. It cares about profits. The decision to continue operating is reckless and inhuman,” NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu told Business Maverick

This is one of many potential flashpoints emerging between capital and labour at this critical and uncertain junction. NUM is also part of Cosatu of course and a key part of the ANC’s political support base, a point that will not be lost on former NUM leaders such as President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mantashe. 

When this is over, if not before, expect the gloves to come off. The rumbling conflict between business and labour in South Africa looks as if it is going to heat up again. BM

Gallery