Sibanye clears most illegal miners from gold shafts

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater arrested nearly 1,400 illegal miners at its South African gold shafts last year in a blitz the company says has mostly ended the practice at its mines.

Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa for decades and it costs the government and the industry more than 20 billion rand ($1.7 billion) a year in lost sales, taxes and royalties, according to a Chamber of Mines report last year.

Sibanye Chief Executive Neal Froneman vowed last year to take the war to illegal miners and clear them from its shafts by January 2018 under the battle cry “Zero Zama”, after the Zulu term for illegal miners.

According to data provided to Reuters by Sibanye, it made 797 arrests in 2017 linked to illegal mining at its Cooke operations and 1,383 overall. The blitz peaked in June with more than 500 arrests, above the 443 arrests in 2016 as a whole.

While Sibanye fell short of its goal of stamping out illegal mining altogether, Sibanye’s head of security Nash Lutchman said based on available intelligence, “there are only about 40 to 50 illegal miners operating now, scattered across our Kloof and Driefontein operations”.

Froneman said last year the number of illegal miners in the company’s gold operations numbered “in the thousands”. Sibanye was the first South African gold miner to set itself a deadline to stop the practice.

Most zamas are undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries who have long provided migrant labour for South Africa’s mines, but are now being laid off. The syndicates that support them and traffic the illegal metals are well-funded, well-established and highly dangerous, security experts say.



Sibanye’s drive was helped by the mothballing of its loss-making Cooke operation west of Johannesburg, which was the epicentre of illegal mining activity in its shafts.

Illegal miners gain access to working gold mines through bribery and other means, forcing companies to dispatch security teams to the shafts and to tighten entrance measures.

Sibanye spent 300 million rand last year and will spend another 300 million rand this year on access and biometric controls at the entry points to its gold mines.

“It still costs us so I don’t know if we will ever declare a victory but we are at the end of stage one,” Froneman told Reuters.

“My biggest concern about illegal mining is the corruption of our supervisors and our employees. That just sets a path for creating a rotten organisation. Everybody gets bribed and the integrity of the business just gets undermined,” he said.

Froneman admitted there was no guarantee illegal miners would not try to return, so the company needed to maintain its costly vigilance.

Security experts have said Sibanye would struggle to eradicate illegal mining completely but could reduce it by 90 percent.

Sibanye is the second South African gold producer to announce a milestone linked to illegal mining this month.

AngloGold Ashanti said it would spend up to $500 million to mechanise its Obuasi mine in Ghana.

The gold mine was rendered worthless when it was invaded by thousands of illegal miners. They were removed by the military last year and the South African company decided to revive the mine as an automated operation after a feasibility study.

($1 = 11.5400 rand)


(By Ed Stoddard;Editing by James Macharia and David Clarke)


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Sibanye-Stillwater falls into annual loss, closes dividend tap

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African-based gold and platinum producer Sibanye-Stillwater reported an attributable loss for 2017 and in a bid to preserve cash turned off the dividend flow that has made it a darling of investors

Sibanye’s share price fell 5 percent, underscoring disappointment among investors who have grown accustomed to hefty dividend payouts from the Gold Fields spin-off.

The company’s operations, including the troubled Rustenburg assets it acquired from Anglo American Platinum, delivered solid results, with the loss stemming from impairments, provisions for occupational healthcare claims, and restructuring and transaction costs among other factors.

Sibanye-Stillwater reported an attributable loss of 4.437 billion rand ($333 million) for the year ended 31 December 2017, compared with attributable earnings of 3.473 billion rand ($237 million) for the year ended 31 December 2016.

“In the near term, cash preservation is prudent and as a result no final dividend is being declared,” the company, which has given over 4 billion rand back to shareholders since 2013, said.

Sibanye initially positioned itself as a dividend play with cash flowing from mature South African gold assets that did not require huge investment, but it has been expanding into platinum and beyond South Africa, diverting its dividend flow.

Its dividend yield is now 2.882 percent, almost the same as the 2.84 percent for Johannesburg’s All-share index.

The healthcare provision has been put aside for an expected settlement in a class-action suit against six current and previous South African gold producers related to a fatal lung disease. This also hit AngloGold Ashanti’s earnings.

It was launched almost six years ago on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, a fatal lung disease contacted by inhaling silica dust in gold mines, and is expected to be settled in a few months.

Overall, Sibanye’s operational performance was good, suggesting it will return to profits and dividends.

The company said its labour-intensive Rustenburg platinum operations west of Johannesburg – which under Amplats were loss-making and flashpoints of violent labour unrest – contributed 1.6 billion rand or 18 percent to group adjusted EBITDA.

“The Rustenburg operations have consistently delivered solid production and improved financial results, with approximately 1 billion rand in cost savings and synergies realised in the first year of incorporation, well ahead of initial expectations of 800 million rand over three to four years,” the company said.

“This is a remarkable result from assets which, before being part of the Sibanye-Stillwater Group, had been delivering significant and sustained losses for many years,” said chief executive Neal Froneman.


(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Adrian Croft)

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