Extracting the riches of the Earth is a hard and hazardous occupation, and there are undoubtedly more comfortable places on the planet to hold a strike than 2.4km down the shaft of a goldmine.
Yet, this is exactly the option taken by 1 700 miners, who embarked on what Harmony emphasised was an illegal strike at the company’s Kusasalethu mine near Carletonville, when Wednesday’s morning shift refused to come to the surface.
At the heart of the somewhat unusual industrial unrest among the mine’s 4 500 employees is a statement by the company last August that it was reducing its life to five years from 24, because grades were expected to become much lower.
Kusasalethu, situated on the West Witwatersrand Basin, mining the Ventersdorp Contact Reef as its main ore body, produced just over 124 000 ounces of gold in the 2016 financial year.
But the rumblings from mining analysts have been far from bullish on the long-term prospects of the industry – and ore grades are a major factor in this dissatisfaction as profits come under pressure. More and more gold mines are issuing similar warnings on the viability of existing facilities and clearly the miners are increasingly worried about employment shrinking.