The strike in the gold mines of Sibanye Stillwater in South Africa continues in its third month as the fourth negotiation meeting between the company and the unions failed to find a resolution to the conflict over wages last week Tuesday, May 17.

Around 30,000 workers in the company’s gold mines downed tools on March 9 demanding a pay hike of R1,000 for the lowest-paid workers, which would raise their salary to R10,000.

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe has suggested his department could look to revoke Sibanye-Stillwater’s mining rights at its gold mines as a strike marks its tenth week with no sign of a settlement in sight.

In response to Gwede Mantashe, Sibanye Stillwater said it would challenge any formal effort by the South African government to have its mining licences withdrawn from its gold mines amid a strike at the operations.

Sibanye Stillwater CEO, Neal Froneman said his company could last “for years and years” without having to mine its gold, implying unions would crack first over the wage impasse. Froneman also said he would provide unions with “a back door” – or elegant way out of the strike – if they wanted to accept the firm’s offer.

Speaking to BusinessLive, the company’s spokesman James Wellsted commented that the firm reserved the right to protect the interests of its stakeholders through appropriate legal channels.

James Lorimer, DA spokesperson on mineral resources & energy, also cautioned against such a move, saying it would be a huge stretch of “doubtful legality” to use section 47 to intervene in a strike.

“To do so would be to send a signal that the South African government does not subscribe to the rule of law and any investor faces having their property seized at any time. The predictable result would be that investment in South African mining, already in crisis, would dry up even further,” he told BusinessLive.

Meanwhile, The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) wants Minister Gwede Mantashe to follow through on his threat to revoke Sibanye-Stillwater’s mining rights in the gold sector.

The NUM and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) have been on strike for over three months over wage demands at Sibanye’s gold mines in both Gauteng and the Free State. 

“With poor black mineworkers on strike for almost three months demanding a mere R1 000 and 6% in living wages, Sibanye-Stillwater continues to show workers a middle finger,” NUM said in a statement on Monday.

“We will be fully supporting the minister when he starts the process of revoking Sibanye-Stillwater’s mining licence. We are calling for Minister Gwede Mantashe not to capitulate when threatened with legal action by this evil company.”

Sibanye-Stillwater does not want to mine, the NUM said. “It is arrogantly sitting on top of the properties of minerals, preventing other potential companies from mining”.