February 16, 2012 / 10:02 AM / in 6 years

S.Africa miners turn violent in costly Implats strike

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (Reuters) - Thousands of protesting miners burnt tyres and torched a police office near Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg mine in South Africa on Thursday, as a month-long strike at the world’s second-largest producer of the precious metal turned violent.

Striking workers take part in a march at Emalahleni, 100km (60 miles) east of Johannesburg, July 28, 2011. Thousands of protesting miners burnt tyres and torched a police office near Impala Platinum's Rustenburg mine in South Africa on Thursday as a month-long strike at the world's second-largest producer of the precious metal turned violent. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Police said a miner died of injuries after being beaten during an overnight demonstration. Up to 5,000 miners blocked the road leading to the mine and hurled stones at police, provincial police spokeswoman Adele Myburg said.

“This morning they regrouped, started intimidating people who wanted to go the mine, there were people assaulted, vehicles were stoned,” she said, adding that one female police officer had been injured by flying stones.

“The road was barricaded, vehicles travelling on that road were stoned, private vehicles as well as heavy-armed policed vehicles.”

She said that police had made eight arrests, but the situation was still “very tense and hostile”.

Implats said on Thursday it has lost 1.2 billion rand in revenue from the strike at its Rustenburg operations, about 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. The company warned that its total output and earnings for the remainder for the financial year would also be hit.

Production at Rustenburg, which accounts for 60 percent of Implat’s total output, came to a halt last month after the company sacked about 17,000 employees following a wildcat strike over bonuses.

Chief Executive David Brown told reporters on a conference call the company had re-hired about 6,000 of the dismissed workers. He said he could not give an expected date for when the operations would be back up.

The strike is costing the company an average of 3,000 ounces a day, or 60,000 ounces so far, as the platinum-rich mines remain shut.

COST OF BUSINESS

Putting up with lengthy, and often costly, mining strikes is familiar terrain for investors in South Africa, which is home to some of the world’s deepest and most dangerous mines.

Mineworkers are increasingly looking for better pay in return for the hazardous jobs and the government is pushing for an industry-wide improvement in safety.

“The government is quite correctly very concerned around safety issues and until those issues get fixed it is going to cost these guys a lot of money,” said Nic Norman-Smith, a portfolio manager at Lentus Asset Management in Johannesburg.

Shares of Implats tumbled 3.3 percent to 159.36 rand, making it the worst performer among Johannesburg’s benchmark Top-40.

Implats said it lost an additional 33,000 ounces in the final four months from government-ordered safety stops. Some industry executives have criticised the government’s safety push as too restrictive.

Output has also fallen across the industry as a result of the government’s crackdown, helping push the spot platinum price up 17 percent so far this year.

While lost production is preventing Implats from taking full advantage of the recent recovery in the platinum price, the company cashed in on higher prices in its first half as the weaker rand bolstered the price it receives for its product.

Headline earnings were 573 cents per share for the six months to the end-December, a huge spike from 345 cents a share in the same period the previous year.

Headline earnings, the main profit gauge in South Africa, strip out certain one-time items.

The platinum price fell during the period, but that was counter-balanced by a sharp decline in the rand which Implats said resulted in exchange gains of 608 million rand.

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