The mining sector has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in South Africa and the rest of Africa — provided that governments, business and labour start to see eye to eye.
This is imperative as with the strife currently facing the South African mining industry, it is clear that the players are losing sight of the bigger picture, particularly the enormous job creation potential of mining.
International research has shown that mining has a massive multiplier effect on job creation. For example, studies show that for each direct job created by the Yanacocha gold mine in Peru, 14 additional jobs were indirectly created.
Mines spend millions of dollars on equipment, maintenance, food and other services, either through suppliers or local contractors. This translates into many new jobs in support industries linked to the mining sector. However, commentators do not always recognise this and tend to overlook the sector’s significant contribution to the global employment market.
According to the World Bank, mining activity takes place in over 100 countries, 50 of which are classified as "mining countries" based on the contribution of mining to exports, domestic markets or employment.
Worldwide, mining companies employ an estimated 3.7-million workers, with artisanal and small-scale mining employing another 25-million people, which in total support almost 150-million people. In Canada alone, for every 50 workers one is in fact directly employed in the mining sector, resulting in over 300 000 jobs.
Africa is heavily reliant on mining jobs
Looking at Africa specifically, the continent produces at least 60 metal and mineral products and some of the world’s most important minerals. South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and the DRC dominate the African mining industry, and countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana are heavily dependent on the industry as a major foreign currency earner.
In all these countries, job creation through the mining sector is of paramount importance. For example, the Obuasi gold mine in Ghana employs over 6000 workers and 700 contractors, and almost the entire town of 150 000 to 200 000 people depends on it for their livelihood.
A similar situation is found in South African towns such as Rustenburg — where the current spate of wildcat strike action was sparked — with whole communities depending on mines to sustain them.
Contrary to perceptions that mining pay and conditions are poor, the International Council on Mining and Metals found that mining is a relatively attractive form of employment. According to the council’s case study interviews, mining is seen as better paid and offering more fringe benefits, including housing, education and healthcare.
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