Mining production beat expectations in March, falling less than expected, but the sector will still knock economic growth in the first quarter.

Mining production decreased 1.1% year-on-year in March, after plummeting to a revised 8.1% in February, its lowest level in three years, data from Statistics SA showed on Thursday. This is the fifth consecutive contraction for the sector but a much higher outcome than the 7% contraction economists polled by Bloomberg had expected.

Seasonally adjusted mining production decreased by 3.4% in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the fourth quarter of 2018 — indicating that the sector will weigh on the GDP figure for the quarter.

Production has been hard hit in recent months by strikes at gold mines led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), where about 15,000 workers striked for almost five months at the Driefontein, Kloof and Beatrix mines. Workers returned to work at the end of April.

The sector has also been constrained by load-shedding. SA saw its return in November, with the most severe power cuts the country has seen. There were 26 days of power cuts up to the end of March.

The largest negative contributors in March compared to the year earlier were gold, down 17.7%; other non-metallic minerals, down 8.1%; chromium ore, down 6.4%; and iron ore, down 1.6%.

Compared to February, mining production increased by 3.8% in March.

Stats SA reports that its mining production index, which was set to 100 points in 2015, was 96 in March, up from 80.5 in February 2019 but down from 97.1 in March 2018.

The total sales of SA’s mining industry in March came to R44.42bn, a jump from R38.13bn in February and from R38.8bn in March 2018.

Stats SA showed coal is SA’s biggest revenue earner, with sales of R12.21bn in March followed by platinum group metals (PGMs) with total sales of R9.6bn, then iron ore at R5.43bn.