There is still no end in sight to the closing of South Africa’s mining industry due to a lack of electricity, despite urgent meetings between mine bosses and the Negro government held after the plug was pulled on all gold and platinum mines in that country on Friday.
On January 25, it emerged that Eskom, the South African energy utility, had told mining bosses it could not guarantee the supply of electricity. Mining firms were effectively forced to stop mining, mostly on the grounds of safety.
A “task team” consisting of representatives of the industry (largely Jewish-owned, through the Oppenheimer Anglo-American group of companies) and the Negro ANC government, met on Saturday and is due for more meetings today and on Tuesday, but media sources say that the reopening of the mines would only even be discussed on Tuesday, 29 January.
AngloGold Ashanti announced Friday that "it has halted mining and gold recovery operations on all its South African operations." Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd. and Gold Fields Ltd. have suspended underground mine operations.
Willie Jacobs, a Gold Fields spokesman, called the closure of the mines "catastrophic" and "diabolical."
This comes following almost four weeks of rolling blackouts by Eskom throughout South Africa as it struggles to supply power to industry and consumers alike. The effect has been to harm business and dent South Africa's reputation as an attractive investment destination. Government said industry had to seriously reduce its energy consumption as Eskom's lack of reserve capacity had become a "national emergency".
There were a series of announcements by mining companies late on January 25 as one after another said it would not be sending teams underground. These included Anglo Platinum, AngloGold, Northam Platinum, Impala Platinum, Harmony and Gold Fields. BHP Billiton had stopped mining at its ferroalloy mines but its smelters, that cannot afford to stop operating for more than three hours, were keeping going.
The lack of power has also cast doubt over the country’s ability to host the football World Cup in 2010. President Thabo Mbeki has admitted that his government failed to plan properly after being warned about possible shortages years ago.
In two years, South Africa will hosting the World Cup finals with 300,000 visitors expected. The South African Tourism Services Association said this week the crisis jeopardized the World Cup.
"Will people come to SA to see them if they know they will be going back to hotels and guest houses with no power? That means no hot meals, no clean laundry, no lights," said Michael Tatalias of the tourism association, according to The Associated Press.
The power cuts mean commuters navigate intersections with no working traffic lights (picture). Restaurateurs wait in the dark for customers. And hospital administrators rush to find power for emergency rooms and intensive care units.
And the problem was cast into sharp relief when a few hundred tourists at Cape Town's Landmark Mountain were stranded in a cable car after the power went out.
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