PGM mining in South Africa

Platinum Group Metals have been mined in South Africa for over 100 years, during which time the country has become the leading world source of PGMs, accounting for around 66% of world primary supply of platinum, 39% of palladium, and 98% of rhodium (Johnson Matthey Market Report 2021). The PGM industy is an important element of the South African economy. In 2023, it employed over 181,000 people directly (source: Minerals Council of South Africa, Facts and Figures Pocketbook 2023), while many times this number benefit indirectly from mining activities. Employee earnings amounted to 74.6 billion rand in 2023, and royalties to 14.9 billion rand.

South Africa is still facing challenges regarding the skills and the literacy level of its population, and the unemployment rate is still high (around 32%). In many areas, there is a shortage of quality housing and a lack of sufficient municipal infrastructure to support economic growth. The prevalence of HIV is higher than in other countries and contributes to increased cases of tuberculosis.

Economic growth

In South Africa, mining is one of the main engines of the national economy. PGM industry sales continue to be the largest contributor to total mining sector sales having surpassed coal sales in 2020. PGM mining and fabrication companies working in South Africa are committed to act as responsible players and to support communities and the state in the allevation of these challenges. Apart from employment opportunities, the development of mines and refineries provides staff with training, permanent housing, health monitoring and remedial care, and creates procurement opportunities for local businesses. The extraction industry is an important engine for economic growth and social advancement in developing and transitioning countries. The companies are often some of the main employers in the region, generating considerable tax revenues for governments and opportunities for communities by providing employment, sustainable livelihoods and alleviating poverty. Ensuring a "life-after-mine" by developing sustainable communities has become a major focus for the industry. Therefore, the South African mining industry bears responsibility not only for its own workforce, but also for sustaining familiies and the clusters of industries close to the mines.

The mining industry provides jobs and large training opportunities, both within their employee base and often in surrounding or host communities. By providing training to local communities, they may become more economically engaged and less dependent on mines for livelihoods and economic stability. At the same time, experience has shown that training provided without a pathway to employment creates antagonism, and it is in this complex environment that most of the South African based PGM miners operate. The mining industry cannot alone carry the burden of pathways to employment, and a shift in recent years has been towards creating the framework or economic structures rather than direct training.

Other social and economic benefits to local communities are being funded by PGM mining companies through Social and Labour Plans (SLP) developed in collaboration with the South African Government. These include improvements to roads, schools, clinics and other public buildings, sanitation, and water supplies. 

In recent years, the conditions for mining in South Africa have changed due to a variety of factors such as declining ore grades and increasing mining depths. At the same time, the industry has consolidated, in a response to growing capital and domestic costs (for electricity, water, diesel, fuel, and labour). The recent significant decline in the PGM basket price continues to be a concern. In 2023, load curtailment and operational diffculties impacted concentrators and smelters, which resulted in increased work-in-progress inventory. Mining companies are restructuring by mothballing or closing uneconomic shafts and by cutting back in their high operation costs, including headcount, to reposition the industry for a sustainable and competitive future. 


The South African mining industry in general is often prone to strikes and often the question is raised whether mining labour is fairly compensated. In the workplace, PGM producers uphold the basic human rights of the International Labour Organisation through the implementation of fair employment practices. Clear policies and processes are in place at all PGM mines to ensure observance of human rights, including the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and non-discrimination. Observance of these rights is required of all operations, contractors and suppliers, irrespective of location.

Miners earn an income that is attractive compared to other low-skill work, entry-level employees are offered possibilities to earn significantly more through seniority, bonusses and career development. "Fairly" wages is a difficult societal and national issue given the economic growth within South Africa and the very high unemployment rate (sitting at around 32,7%; Statssa Q4: 2022). South Africa has one of the highest Gini coefficient and these matters are engaged upon regularly in communities through some of the topics covered by the "Courageous Conversations" dialogue under the patronage of the Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. These engagements form part of buidling social capital in Marikana, and bring together interested parties such as mining companies, their customers, trade unions, government agencies, the Minerals Council, and civil society.

In 2021, South Africa joined the ranks of one of the few countries on the African continent to have implemented a national minimum wage. South African labour laws are prescriptive in respect of the minimum wage to be paid to employees and the ultimate responsibilities that employers hold. As a member to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), South Africa has a range of tools which regulate fully the employment relationships, negotiated through NEDLAC, a multi-party forum and structure for employee (both permanent and contracted) terms and conditions of employment. This forum (consisting of unions, labour, government, and private sector) engages thoroughly on wage issues. 

At South African mines, employees receive human rights training as part of their induction process, with the aim to raise awareness around human rights issues through various communications with employees. Through stakeholder engagement processes, material community issues pertaining to human rights are addressed in community forums.

Child labour

Child labour is not accepted in the PGM mines in South Africa (nor in any PGM mine in the US, Canada, or Russia). The work in the mining operations is conducted by specially trained and qualified adult workers. All PGM producers are operating in compliance with the standards of the UN International Labour Organisation which rejects child labour.

Communities and stakeholder engagement 

Repeatedly, PGM mining companies have been confronted with allegations from NGOs on potential human rights impacts of mining activities on communities. As an association the IPA cannot comment on individual allegations on behalf of our members, but we welcome an open dialogue with stakeholders. IPA members implement and maintain ethical business practices and sound systems of corporate governance, based on internationally recognized standards like the ILO Conventions, OECD Principles, and the United Nations Global Compact (more under the Responsible mining and sourcing).

The interaction with adjacent host communities impacted or affected by mining is a particular challenge to PGM companies. Since the Marikana tragedy, buidling strong and trustful relations with adjacent communities has become a priority for the PGM sector. It is committed to contributing to and complementing government's role of developing sustainable communities. Considerable work has been done in the last decade to right some of the challenges that led to this disruptive situation, with mining companies leading the way in ending abusive pay-day lender structures, improving housing and living conditions for workers and engaging more closely and more positively with unions.

Rebuilding trust among stakeholders and a more proactive engagement with communities has been a prerogative of the last years, which can only be achieved by actively and constructively engaging with stakeholders and local authorities to maintain and develop the social infrastructure in the context of limited state funding. This included adapting SLPs in accordance with the most immediate and significant concerns of employees and communities. However, producers are being challenged to manage increasing expectations by communities and the workforce against the backdrop of a series of economic difficulties.