While in favour of the broad growth goals of the national Infrastructure Development Plan, trade union UASA points out that it is a long term plan, and that while it is being implemented, mines are shutting down and employees are losing their jobs.

Franz Stehring, UASA divisional manager for mineral resources, believes that the Northern Cape-Saldanha development corridor provided for by strategic integration project (SIP) 5 is a key priority of the infrastructure development plan for mines.

"Areas of the Northern Cape cannot be mined at this stage because of a lack of transport infrastructure," he says.

Once the appropriate railway structure is in place, those mines will become more viable, resulting in more employment and the growth of beneficiation in the region. He asserts that provisions for improved power infrastructure development will support mining in the long term. However, Stehring points out that in the short term, other measures could be taken to support marginal mines and safeguard jobs.

"The cost of power is crippling marginal mines, particularly in light of winter tariffs. Look at a mine like Blyvooruitzicht near Carletonville — the cost of power played a major role in shutting it down, leaving thousands of people without jobs and impacting the overall economy of the area." UASA believes parastatals such as Eskom should support the overall growth of the economy through their operations, and that in the case of mines, which employ large numbers of workers, these parastatals should adapt their pricing in such a way that the overall good of the economy comes before profits.

"We don't think a parastatal such as Eskom should make a profit at all," says Stehring. "Any profit should be ploughed back in to development and the subsidisation of sectors that need support. If marginal mines were given suitable tax breaks and power subsidies, while wealthy mines paid a form of 'super tax' to support these subsidies, you would not have so many mines in danger of closing."

"Infrastructure development is crucial for overall development of the mining sector"

UASA also believes that the labour problem challenging many mines in recent years could be addressed through better worker education programmes.

"The Draft Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry makes provision for long-term programmes that will educate blue collar workers," he says. "But until these programmes are implemented and bear fruit, mines are being challenged by unrealistic wage expectations. You have a situation where unrealistic, double digit demands are being made, with no understanding of CPI realities," he says. "Education will help to address this challenge." In the long term, infrastructure development is crucial for overall development of the mining sector, says Stehring.

"We say, let's get those corridors open into the Northern Cape, but let us also look at better fiscal and tax initiatives and education programmes that make an immediate difference to mining," he says.

This article first appeared in the Mail & Guardian supplement, 31 January 2013

The NUM, Numsa and Amcu were approached for their views on the national infrastructure development plan, but did not respond by the time of publication

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.