Implats' Marula mine in S.Africa rebounding as community violence fades

The eastern limb of South Africa’s platinum belt has been a flashpoint of labour and community unrest, threatening production and the viability of some operations in the world’s largest producer of the precious metal.

Impala Platinum's Marula mine in Limpopo. Picture:

JOHANNESBURG - South African platinum producer Impala Platinum (Implats) said on Thursday its Marula mine, which had been on the verge of closure because of disruptions from community protests, was rebounding strongly and ramping up production.

In a report on its quarterly production for the period to the end of March, Implats said the turnaround at Marula flagged in its annual results at the start of March was being sustained.

“The period under review saw a notable decline in community disruptions compared to the prior comparable period, which was significantly impacted by protest action,” the company said.

Platinum production more than doubled from the same period last year to 20,000 ounces from 9,000 ounces. Platinum production for the group as a whole was down 4.5% to 316,000 ounces from 331,000 ounces.

The rebound is significant and is a rare piece of good news in the South African platinum industry, which has been grappling for years with depressed prices and violent protests and strikes, making most of its shafts loss-making.

Last year, Implats was considering shutting Marula down after it lost 10,000 ounces out of almost 80,000 ounces of planned output to community protests that included road blocks, vehicle stonings and assaults on people reporting for work.

A nearby chrome project Implats had set up with a tribal council, made up of a chief and his aides, had collapsed, triggering a wave of protests from local residents who had hoped to benefit from its revenue flows - part of a wider pattern of such deals coming unstuck and fanning turbulence.

The project has since been rebooted, dousing the flames of discontent aimed at it.

The region in north eastern South Africa was hit by over 400 incidents of social unrest between 1 January 2016 and 31 March this year which affected the operations of platinum producers including Implats and rivals such as Anglo American Platinum.