Sibanye-Stillwater shuts down Marikana shaft, retrenches workers

Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman has been accused by workers unions of being heavy-handed with the retrenchments. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/Independent Newspapers

Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman has been accused by workers unions of being heavy-handed with the retrenchments. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 19, 2024


Sibanye-Stillwater, which has been retrenching employees across its South African gold and platinum group metals (PGMs) operations in the past few months, is shutting down the 4 Belt PGM shaft at Marikana in the North West province.

The closure comes five years after the initial proposed closure in 2019, with several successful initiatives supported by stronger PGM prices, enabling the shaft to remain open to mine the last remaining economically extractable reserves.

Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman yesterday said the company has determined that the 4B shaft’s lack of viability will tip its other operations into loss-making.

“Despite 4B shaft having limited remaining economic reserves, the decision to close a shaft is never taken lightly,” Froneman said.

“We cannot, however, continue to absorb ongoing losses, which in turn affects the viability of the rest of the SA PGM operations to the detriment of all stakeholders.”

The company employed 1 496 employees and 54 contractors at the 4B shaft.

After dangling a condition to employees that the mine operate viably and profitably to avoid retrenchments, Sibanye’s negotiations with mineworkers resulted in a reduction of 226 employees from the shaft since February as a result of natural attrition and not being replaced.

Sibanye said about 469 employees had been transferred from the shaft to other PGM operations, while 643 employees were granted voluntary separation or early retirement packages, and a further 93 employees whose fixed-term contracts are ending will not be renewed.

However, a further 65 employees from the shaft could not be accommodated and have been retrenched, while 54 contractors have been terminated, leaving scores jobless.

“We are encouraged that the number of forced retrenchments was limited and we acknowledge and thank all stakeholders for their constructive engagement during the process,” Froneman said.

Mineworkers at the mine yesterday told Business Report that there were still extractable PGM resources at the Marikana shaft, and accused Sibanye executives of prioritising protection of earnings from the time when commodity prices were high.

“Sadly, they are in a rush to protect whatever they earned from the good prices days at whatever cost,” said one employee from the shaft.

“It’s a sad day because we had agreed that if profitability improved there would be no retrenchments, but we are surprised that that decision has now been abandoned.”

Mineworkers unions were not immediately available for comment about this development yesterday.

However, they have been up in arms with Sibanye over the retrenchments, accusing Froneman of being heavy-handed with the retrenchments.

Meanwhile, Sibanye said Siphumelele shaft in Rustenburg will resume production next month after it suffered damage to its surface infrastructure in February, resulting in the suspension of operations.

Repairs at the Siphumelele shaft had progressed according to schedule, with all employees returning from leave this week in preparation for start-up procedures.

The Siphumelele shaft was forecast to produce an average of approximately 4 500 PGM ounces per month, or 54 000 ounces for 2024, accounting for about 3.5% of annual production from the Sibanye’s PGM operations in South Africa.

“As for Siphumelele, we are encouraged by the progress of the repair work at the shaft post the ore collector bin incident,” said Froneman.

In 2023, Sibanye-Stillwater sank into a loss of $2 billion.

Froneman has emphasised that the company continues to “act prudently to protect the balance sheet and ensure the sustainability” of the group.

Last week, Sibanye-Stillwater announced retrenchment of nearly 4 000 workers from its South Africa gold and head office operations.

It said some shafts had been loss-making while closure of others in the past few months had necessitated a reduction in shares services for its southern Africa region.

Labour union Solidarity said it “will ask for retrenchments to be put on hold until we conclude wage negotiations” with Sibanye.