Platinum Supply Chain

Ventilation2Mine-Ventilation, Detail. Platinum Belt / South Africa 2015 (click to see the entire construction)

Platinum: Germany – South Africa, a first overview
It ends in the production of catalytic converters in German, US-American or Japanese factories. It begins in South African mines. In the “platinum belt”, north of Johannesburg, you can find around 80 per cent of the world’s platinum deposits, belonging to the groups in Platinum Group Metals (PGM). Platinum is now the most valuable precious metal in the world, and Germany is – after the USA – its second largest importer.
The most important German raw material imports from South Africa were chromium and platinum. The world’s largest deposits of these metals are found in South Africa, and as much as 95 per cent of all known PGM reserves are located in the country. This leads the platinum supply to be restricted to particular supply chains, which is why DERA – Germany’s “raw material competence centre” – is tasked with detecting potential price fluctuations and supply risks early on in order to provide German industry with compensatory strategies. This situation has led platinum to be classified as a ‘critical raw material’. Due to the importance of platinum and PGMs in catalysts, demand for these materials raises with increasing car sales and due to growing global obligations to use catalysts.
The mining sector in South Africa is the fifth largest worldwide and amounts to around 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. In 2010, South Africa sold commodities worth USD 37 billion, the most valuable were platinum, coal and gold (63%).
Lonmin is the world’s third-largest platinum mining company after Anglo American Platinum and Impala. According to a report by Lonmin, during the last quarter of 2015, 2.5 million tonnes of rock were mechanically crushed and chemically separated in Marikana.  On average, one tonne of raw materials contains 5 grams of PGMs; these then need to be isolated during processing. Currently, around 32,000 people work underground for Lonmin;  about seven per cent are women. There are two daily shifts that involve at least eight hours of actual working time in addition to up to two hours of travelling time. As the lifts to the underground sites have a limited capacity, further waiting time ensues. PGMs are found in the Platinum Belt at between 1000 and 1400 meters below the surface. In the four modern and most productive 2nd generation shafts at Lonmin, around 39,000 tonnes of material are mined and brought to the surface every day.  Lonmin’s rock drill operators are expected to remove twelve meters of rock daily; their work involves drilling blasting holes with pneumatic hammer drills that weigh up to 50 kg. RDOs are supported by general workers who undertake various tasks, such as transporting dynamite to the blasting sites, collecting and removing rock, loading the rail-based transport containers and keeping the tracks free. There is no electricity in most of the underground sites; the lighting (which is mainly provided by the workers’ headlamps) and the partially mechanized transport of the material to the conveyor belts are powered by batteries. The most important tools used by the workers are hammer drills, dynamite and shovels. In the last quarter of 2015, the men and women who work in the mines brought so much material to the surface, that 58 kg of platinum could be recovered every day. This had a market value of EUR 1.7 million;  a rock drill operator employed by Lonmin, in contrast, earns the equivalent of about EUR 18 a day, with contract and temporary workers earning no more than half of this.
(Excerpt from: Don’t worry about the Vibrations: BASF and the Consequences of European Raw Material Policy. in: PLOUGH BACK THE FRUITS. The Struggle for Justice and Restitution. The Bodymaps of the Widows of Marikana. Ed. by NomaRussia Bonase & Judy Seidman, Simone Knapp & Boniface Mabanza,  Maren Grimm & Jakob Krameritsch. Hamburg/Heidelberg/Johannesburg/Vienna, 2016. p. 148-155.)

For a small selection of issue-specific texts, please see here.
For interviews with some mine workers at Lonmin in Marikana, see here.