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Summary

Miners in the South African platinum sector have now been on strike for over four months. Public debate on the strike has been hampered by the foregrounding of certain sets of financial data at the expense of others. This paper attempts to broaden the terms of the debate. Firstly, it situates the current financial predicament of South Africa’s three largest platinum mining companies within the context of high profits achieved in the 2000s commodities’ boom. Secondly, it provides an overview of the financial implications of the wage offers and demands made by the parties sitting on opposite ends of the negotiating table. Assessing whether or not the wage demands are ultimately affordable is beyond the scope of this paper, and would require access to data which the mining companies appear unwilling to disclose. Instead, we provide a counterfactual, asking whether or not wage demands deemed impossible today could have been met during the previous decade, which comprised both a boom and a bust in the platinum sector. The strike also brings into sharp focus broader issues of how the country’s mineral wealth can be harnessed to best serve the interests of the wider population. This is discussed in the final section.

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