Joseph Mathunjwa addresses striking mine workers in this file picture. Picture: REUTERS
Joseph Mathunjwa addresses striking mine workers in this file picture. Picture: REUTERS

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) threatened to bring all of Impala Platinum’s South African mines to a standstill around the loss of 13,000 jobs at the world’s second-largest platinum miner.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa proposed that the government nationalise the five of 11 shafts that Implats has proposed closing or selling over the next two years to restore profitability to its flagship Rustenburg mining lease area and to lower its workforce to 27,000 people from 40,000.

In a typically bellicose stance from Mathunjwa, he threatened that if talks with Implats failed and all Amcu’s avoidance measures were not considered and "put in practice", then Amcu would bring the company’s South African mines to a complete halt.

"We’ll hit them where it matters most. We’ll ask for secondary strikes … so if Impala owns mines in Limpopo we will make sure that not one ounce of platinum will leave the ground.

"We are capable of doing that. We are not bluffing," Mathunjwa said in the union’s first public comment on the job cuts announced last week. "Amcu will never stomach 13,000 workers being laid off. Never," he said, pointing out that the union represented 70% of Implats’s workforce.

Company spokesman Johan Theron said Implats, which was undertaking the R2.7bn restructuring programme after six years of trying to find alternatives to shutting so many mines and losing thousands of jobs in the process, simply could not afford to take a lengthy strike at its 11 shafts in Rustenburg and two mines in Limpopo.

"It could put the entire company at risk, something we are trying very hard to avoid. We’ve been losing up to R2bn a year over the past six years and we’ve reached a point [where] we have to do something to save as many jobs as we can."

Asked about Mathunjwa’s suggestion that the state nationalise the shafts Impala intended to shut or sell to a junior mining group with the additional "sweetener" of one of the retained shafts thrown into the mix to ensure the sustainability of the new venture, Theron said the company was open to all options.

Implats would be willing to talk to the state-owned mining company African Exploration, Mining and Finance Corporation, Theron said, about commercial terms for the two or three shafts out of the five that would be viable in a new owner’s hands. He pointed out that the only two profitable Implats shafts in Rustenburg were small and would serve little purpose in someone else’s hands.

Asked about the possibility of the state taking on the unprofitable mines, department of mineral resources spokeswoman Ayanda Shezi said the state was committed to finding a solution to minimise job cuts.

"Government remains committed to discussions with Implats and unions on the company’s restructuring plans, and will engage with all detailed plans to be presented during deliberations, with the view to finding solutions which ensure that jobs are saved," she said.

Of the four main shafts to be closed or sold, just two had enough ore left in the ground to sustain mining for about eight years and they were close enough to each other to form a single unit for a new owner.

A third shaft could be used to mine across the artificial farm-fence boundary into untapped resources owned by Sibanye-Stillwater, provided that it agreed to a deal.

Efforts by Implats management to persuade previous owners Anglo American Platinum and then new owners Sibanye about the merits of such a deal have failed, leaving the shaft with a limited life.

The other shafts were depleted and near the end of their lives, with no options for new owners and cost structures to keep them going.