South African mines idle for 4th day amid power crisis
Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Agence France-Presse . Johannesburg

A power crisis forced the suspension of mining operations for a fourth day running in South Africa on Monday as unions expressed fears the halt in production would lead to large-scale job losses.

Major mining houses said that while the state utility Eskom did agree during weekend talks to provide a limited amount of power, it was not enough for normal production to resume.

‘We are continuing with maintenance and other things we can do without Eskom but none of our mines are operating at the present moment,’ Tom Tweeedy, spokesman for De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond producer, told AFP Monday.

De Beers and the country’s three main gold mining companies — Gold Fields, Harmony and AngloGold Ashanti — were all forced to halt production on Friday after Eskom switched off their power supplies. Reidwaan Wookay, a spokesman for Gold Fields, said that while there had now been a partial restoration of electricity, it would only enable the company to carry out maintenance work.

‘We are adhering to stringent safety standards and the power we are having is not enough for us to take people underground,’ Wookay told AFP. ‘We are using it to maintain the mines and keep them safe. It doesn’t allow us to to excavate or engage in any kind of production.’

AngloGold Ashanti said Monday they were playing a wait-and-see game with Eskom, but did not foresee an imminent resumption of operations. ‘We are waiting for Eskom ... They told us they will be increasing supply of electricity,’ spokesman Steven Lenahan said. ‘We are not producing and that won’t be happening for a next while.’

Eskom spokeswoman Nto Rikhotso said that further talks between the mining companies and authorities had been pencilled in for Tuesday. ‘There was a meeting over the weekend between Eskom, the mining companies and DME (Department of Minerals and Energy and an agreement was reached that they can used about 70 to 75 per cent of power for their production.’ ‘Another meeting is scheduled for possibly today.’

Harmony, which operates 22 gold mines and employs 43,000 miners, has said the stoppages are costing the company around 60 million rand ($8.5m) a day in production.

The stoppage in production has raised fears that companies will soon start laying off staff, given warnings by Eskom that the power problems are unlikely to be fully resolved until 2013.

‘Our main concern is that workers should not suffer the consequences of a crisis emanating from irresponsibility, a crisis which is not responsibility of workers themselves,’ said Patrick Craven, spokesman for the main labour federation COSATU.

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