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Gold‌ ‌is‌ ‌mining’s‌ ‌biggest‌ ‌jobs‌ ‌loser,‌ ‌as‌ ‌platinum‌ ‌rakes‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌cash‌

The mining industry shed 23 000 jobs from 2012 to 2019, according to a Statistics South Africa report

Job losses were recorded in some of the industry’s biggest employers including gold mining, which shed 42 000 jobs and the platinum group metals (PGM) sector, which lost 8 000, according to the report released on Tuesday. Coal mining, however, added 17 000 workers to its labour force.

In 2019, the PGM sector was the largest employer in mining — employing 39% of the industry’s total workforce

Although there were job losses among permanent mining employees, there was a 4.7% increase in the number of subcontractors employed in the industry.

The census of South Africa’s mines is conducted every three to five years and paints a picture of the nature and structure of the industry. The last census results were released in 2015.

According to the census, in 2019 the mining industry generated R552-billion in income, a 5.4% increase per year compared to 2015. Coal and lignite mining earned the largest share of income (R156-billion or 28.3%), followed by PGM mining (R153.7-billion or 27.9%).

Between 2012 and 2019, there was a 44% increase in the amount of income generated by the PGM sector. 

By 2019, platinum miners were already enjoying all-time high palladium and rhodium prices amid tightening emissions legislation in Europe and China, the world’s largest automobile market. 

Palladium and rhodium are used in cars for catalytic converters, which control exhaust emissions. Vehicle demand is the single largest demand segment for platinum. Only battery electric vehicles do not contain any PGMs.

The 2019 census was conducted the year before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the global economy. Lockdowns across the world were followed by higher demand for PGMs as parts of the global economy started to reopen and automobile production was ramped up.

According to the statistics agency, for the first time since 2010, the value of PGM sales was on par with coal sales in 2019. But in 2020 PGM sales overtook those of coal to become the most significant contributor to total mining-industry sales — reaching R190-billion in 2020.

In 2020, prices for palladium (in US dollar terms) increased by 43.2% and rhodium by 187.2%.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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