Lonmin shooting leads to concerns over future of platinum

August 25, 2012 12:00 pm

Memorial services are being held throughout South Africa in the wake of the violent clashes at the Lonmin platinum mine last week.   A number of influential cabinet ministers attended the principal service at Marikana, while the local community also turned out in force, with some mourners being bussed into the area, for the service taking place in a white marquee near the koppie, where the strikers convened before the shooting.

President Zuma, who has declared the first period of mourning the country has seen since the end of apartheid, visited the Lonmin site on Wednesday morning. He listened to striking workers and told them that he wanted to find out the truth about what had happened first-hand, rather than rely on the media. “I will also send a message to the employer that you demand R12 500. I have not met the employer, so I do not know his view on this. But we have a Constitution to guide us and the Inter-Ministerial Committee I established will continue its work of assisting families and surviving workers. If there is anything that needs me, I will come in person again,” he said.

The President went on to express regret about how events unfolded at the mine. “This is painful to all of us,” he said. “It is not acceptable for people to die where talks can be held. But I do feel your pain, and have come personally to express that. I am certain that the Commission of Inquiry will get to the bottom of what happened here.”

Meanwhile share prices of Lonmin – the world’s third biggest producer of platinum – have slumped, as the domino effect has spread to neighbouring mines. Anglo American Platinum, the world’s top producer of platinum, has been handed demands from its employees, whilst workers at Royal Bafokeng Platinum took industrial action over wages yesterday. The strike remained peaceful, although there was a strong police presence close by. Like the workers at Lonmin a number of strikers were demanding their monthly wages be increased from R4,000 to R12,500 a month.

Lebogang Mosito of RBPlat says he earns R4,000 per month, which is not sufficient for his family – “I have two kids to take care of, I spend R850 for school transport, R700 for my travelling and R800 for rental. After all this, I am left with nothing,” he said.

Concerns have been raised over the effects of the Lonmin disaster on South African investments, but Trade Minister, Rob Davies said that the broader investment climate of the country had not been adversely affected. “I think it is an enormous tragedy, but I do not think we should over-read into it, [that] suddenly the investment climate is turning sharply against us and there is nothing we can do about it,’ he told Fin24.

The Lonmin mine has halted production since last Thursday, with forecasters predicting that this may go some way towards stabilising platinum prices, which have recently been in decline as demand has decreased. However, UBS analyst Edel Tully does not believe this will be enough to redress the balance. “This still would not clear out the 210,000 ounces expected surplus we estimate for the year,” he said.

“But platinum is also pricing in the increasing likelihood of contagion, with market focus now shifting to Anglo American Platinum, the only major producer that has not yet been affected by union rivalry issues this year.”

Platinum prices would only dramatically equalise if Anglo American Platinum was to also experience unrest and decreasing production.

With platinum currently in such low demand, improving wages would only lead to bankruptcy within the industry. The other means to increase earnings – firing workers and closing plants – would lead to greater unrest and would be met with governmental disapproval. As a result, the best situation that mine bosses can hope for right now, is a sudden rush in demand for platinum.  This way, the current surplus could be shifted and its value could increase once again.

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