/ 18 October 2007

AngloPlat shuts mine shaft after worker killed

The world’s biggest producer of platinum, Anglo Platinum, said on Thursday it shut a shaft at its largest operation on Wednesday after one worker was killed, sending platinum prices to a new record.

Simon Tebele, a spokesperson at AngloPlat, majority owned by Anglo American, could not say for how long the Paardekraal shaft in Rustenburg would be closed, or quantify what might be lost in output.

”The shaft where this happened is closed. It was closed immediately after the accident … I don’t know when it will re-open,” Tebele told Reuters.

The firm does not publish production figures at shaft level, but does so at a mine level, another AngloPlat official said.

Northam Platinum said on Wednesday it had shut its mine — the deepest platinum mine in the world — after a worker was killed in a rockfall. The mine produces 325 000 ounces of PGMs (Platinum Group Metals) a year, and was expected to lose 1 000 ounces of PGM a day during the closure.

Northam Platinum spokesperson Marion Brower said on Thursday: ”We may have some news by Monday about the re-opening.”

Brower also confirmed a National Union of Mineworkers statement that two other miners had been killed at Northam’s mine in the past month.

The death at AngloPlat on Wednesday adds to a recent spate of fatalities and accidents in South Africa’s mines — the world’s biggest source of platinum, gold and other metals.


President Thabo Mbeki has ordered an audit of all its mines. About 200 workers were killed in mines last year, and more than 150 have died so far this year, officials said.

The country’s biggest mining union, NUM said it plans a one-day strike to protest against the deaths and force mining firms to improve safety.

”We are looking into the legal nitty-gritty and mobilising our members; they will suggest a date [for the strike], but it looks like the last week of October or early November,” said NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka.

Workers at Gold Fields’ Kloof mine downed tools on Thursday to mourn for three colleagues killed in an accident last week, in an action agreed with the firm. Gold Fields said the workers would return to duty on the night shift on Thursday.

Following the death at AngloPlat, NUM asked the government to prosecute mining firms for the accidents, saying ”a genocide” was unfolding at mines.

”While the industry keeps on [finding] innovative ways of pocketing billions through continuous operations and ultra-deep mining at the expense of the poor, the NUM would seek to stop any form of madness that seeks to project black life as cheap,” NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said.

Thabo Gazi, chairperson of the Council of Mining Safety and Health — a government mines watchdog — said prosecutions were difficult to enforce. His department, authorised to fine mines that do not adhere to safety standards, was bogged down with countless court appeals as companies resist paying fines.

He said the country’s mine laws did not have minimum safety standards and some of the laws came from the apartheid-era.

He said R200 000 was the highest fine that could be imposed on errant mining houses, which is loose change in the multimillion-rand mining industry.

”The attitude is that if you pay a fine it is an admission of guilt, and it could be a problem for the company in future,” he said. — Reuters