At a media briefing held at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Friday morning, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said that the future of the mining industry was at stake and promised swift action from law enforcement officials against those who gather illegally and threaten violence.
He was backed up by government ministers, including the ministers for police, state security, mineral resources, and finance, who presented a unified front in condemning the crisis in mining and calling for a resolution to the ongoing conflict. A number of military generals were also present at the briefing.
Conflict in the mining sector has been simmering since last year, when there were protests at Xstrata and Impala Platinum. Matters escalated at Lonmin in August and have since spread to several nearby mines.
On Wednesday, Anglo Platinum suspended its operations in Rustenburg, which resulting in a 4.5% drop in share price. The rand has declined in by more than 2% as a result of the mining crisis.
"These acts of violence and intimidation clearly undermine government efforts of ensuring economic and security stability," said Radebe. "Government recognises that if the current situation continues unabated it will make it even harder to overcome our challenges of slow economic growth, high unemployment, poverty and inequality."
"All those who continue to engage in illegal activities are going to be dealt with very swiftly," he added.
However he stopped short of calling for a state of emergency, saying instead that the state was focused on ensuring peace and stability prevailed.
"This is not a state of emergency. We want to bring back public order in the affected areas so that the economy can continue to run accordingly," he said.
This appears to be the first official government admission that the mining crisis is getting out of control.
"Government has put in place measures to ensure that the current situation is brought under control," he said, adding that those who partake in illegal gatherings, carrying dangerous weapons, and threaten or incite others to violence would be "dealt with accordingly".
"Law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to arrest those who are found to contravene legislation," he said.
"Our government is making a clarion call to all South Africans to desist from these illegal acts and must work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that this situation is brought to normality," he said.
Radebe said that questions on whether police would continue to use live ammunition against protestors, or whether the army would be deployed to assist the police were "an operational matter" that would be dealt by police.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said her department was in regular contact with the mining industry, and was working hard to ensure a return to stability soon.
"We're all worried and concerned about its impact on the economy and its impact on the workers," she said.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, meanwhile, said continued instability and lack of production would have multiple costs for the country, impacting on the country's overall growth, exports, rising unemployment and investor confidence.
"We all have to stop what is going on which is going to be extremely damaging to our country in more ways than we know at the moment," he said.