Load-shedding threatens global platinum supply

Load-shedding is severely impacting the local platinum group metal (PGM) industry and threatens the global supply of these metals.

Afriforesight’s head of PGMs and chief sustainability officer, Deborah Chikukwa, told Business Day TV that local PGM miners face several challenges. 

Lower prices due to subdued demand have seen local PGM miners’ profit margins under severe pressure.

In addition, rising production costs are also a significant hurdle for PGM miners, especially compared to other mining sectors. 

Chikukwa said load-shedding adds another layer of complexity to the struggles of PGM miners.

She explained that the increased frequency and severity of load-shedding in 2023 have exacerbated challenges for this mining sector.

While many players are exploring alternative energy solutions, such as solar and wind power, these are not immediate remedies and will likely only materialise in the next 24 months.

In trading updates this year, mining companies and their CEOs have been outspoken about the deteriorating operating environment which prevents them from investing in South Africa. 

Exxaro’s coal production decreased by 11% in 2022 “due to the poor rail performance from Transnet” and the “structural constraint of inadequate electricity supply”.

Sasol attributed its declining output to South Africa’s deteriorating infrastructure and the “structural constraint” of load-shedding.

“Persistent load-shedding, infrastructure constraints, in particular, the poor performance of the national provider of rail and port logistics services […] continue to significantly impact our business,” it said.

Neal Froneman
Sibanye Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman

Sibanye-Stillwater said the “increasingly supportive environment in Europe is in stark contrast to the operating environment in South Africa, which has continued to regress”.

In an operating update earlier this year, Sibanye said South Africa’s operating environment for miners is regressing due to ongoing load-shedding, the deteriorating quality of public services, and increased organised crime.

These challenges have led many local miners to reduce costs by cutting jobs, specifically in their South African operations.

Sibanye recently announced restructuring efforts that could impact over 4,000 South African jobs.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) recently warned that close to 10,000 jobs could be lost between now and January 2024 as mining companies begin to issue retrenchment notices amid declining commodity prices and an inability to export their produce.

“Most companies have cited load-shedding and the continued increasing prices of electricity as reasons to issue Section 189A notices,” NUM said in a statement. 

However, this issue does not only affect the local mining sector and economy.

Despite the severe challenges the local industry faces, South Africa remains a pivotal player in the global PGM sector. 

In 2022, South Africa supplied 70% to 75% of the world’s platinum, around 80% of the world’s rhodium, and was second only to Russia in terms of palladium production, Chikukwa said.

“And if load-shedding wasn’t an issue, we actually could have come out as the number one producer for palladium as well in 2022,” she said.

As load-shedding and other structural issues in the South African economy continue to weigh on this sector, and solutions will take time to implement, the downfall of the local industry will have far-reaching consequences in the global supply chain.