South Africa: For the Platinum Industry, Marikana Was a 'Mechanisation Moment'

Striking Lonmin miners gather on a hill near the Marikana mine before the shooting in 2012 (file photo).

The Marikana massacre, which took place seven years ago on 16 August 2012, triggered seismic changes in the platinum industry, for better and worse. It is leaner, meaner and more profitable, with a focus on mechanisation. Workers have also done better and ply their trade in safer environments, but there are fewer of them, and capital has a distinct edge over labour at the bargaining table.

In 2012, South Africa's platinum mining industry employed about 197,000 people who collectively earned R34.5-billion, according to the Minerals Council South Africa. So annual average earnings came in at about R175,000 per employee, or about R14,500 a month, at a time when the Marikana strikers were fighting for a roughly doubling of basic monthly wages to R12,500. That underscores the disparities in the industry that existed between the vast majority of semi-skilled guys sweating underground risking life and limb, and the generally air-conditioned world of upper management.

In 2018, a different picture emerges. The industry employed about 167,000 people, a 15% decrease from six years earlier. And their combined earnings amounted to more than R48 billion, or an annual average of R288,000 per employee, about 65% higher. Disparities between the stope and boardroom are...

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