* Strike already hurting growth, current account
* Losses will mount after strike ends until mines hit full
* Impact has hit mining communities hard
* Platinum prices have been little changed by the strike
By Ed Stoddard
RUSTENBURG, South Africa, March 20 As South
Africa's biggest post-apartheid mine strike marks its eighth
week on Thursday, it is already denting growth and export
earnings, and many of those affected are having to sell their
most prized possessions to make ends meet.
In an informal bar near the platinum belt city of
Rustenburg, striking miner Oupa Majodina holds up his cell phone
to show a photo of his pride and joy: his cattle.
"I own 11, but I will have to sell some of them. What can I
do? I need the cash," he said glumly as he nursed a beer.
No talks are scheduled between the two sides to the strike,
the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and
the world's top platinum producers, Anglo American Platinum
, Impala Platinum and Lonmin, and they
remain poles apart on the issue of wages.
That means the misery will only spread, making an even
bigger headache for President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African
National Congress on the run-in to May 7 general elections.
The strike has hit about 40 percent of global production of
the precious metal, which is used for catalytic converters in
vehicles and is a key source of hard currency for South Africa.
The companies have lost revenues of 9.2 billion rand ($850
million) and counting, according to an industry website that
updates the losses like a Doomsday clock. ( here
"You will need to take that 9 billion rand out of the
current account because it is almost all from exports," said
Mike Schussler, who runs economics consultancy economists.co.za.
This current account deficit is already a key weakness in
South Africa's economy, putting its rand currency under
pressure. It grew in 2013 to 5.8 percent of gross domestic
product, its widest since 2008.
A wave of violent, wildcat strikes that erupted periodically
in 2012, rooted in a turf war between AMCU and the National
Union of Mineworkers, cost platinum and gold producers over 16
billion rand that year, when the current account gap was 5.2
percent of GDP.
With no resolution in sight, the cost of the present strike
may exceed that, and the losses will continue to mount after it
is over, as operations will take a long time to get back to full
production. Job losses and shaft closures look highly likely.
For the current account, the losses will be magnified as
South Africa's government embarks on a spending binge for big
ticket items such as over 1,000 trains that will be imported
from foreign companies like General Electric.
"There will be huge pressure on the current account from the
government's infrastructure programme. So this strike could
hardly come at a worse time," said Schussler.
The impact on growth will also be significant. Africa's
largest economy is seen expanding at a sluggish pace of only
around 2.5 percent per year, according to the latest Reuters
poll of economists.
"Roughly speaking, if you look at our GDP, which is 3.6
trillion rand, then that 9 billion rand is about a quarter of a
percent off economic growth already," said Schussler.
Perhaps half a percent had been lost already, he added, if
the 4 billion rand in lost employee wages and the effect on
companies that supply and service the mines are added.
"This means growth of 2 percent or lower," Schussler said.
Even operations not on strike, such as Aquarius Platinum's
, have not been able to capitalise on their rivals'
misfortunes as the strike has not had much impact on price.
Spot platinum prices are little changed since the
strikes began on Jan. 23 as traders bet that the availability of
above-ground stocks will cushion end-users from the impact.
CATTLE AND CARAVANS
The lost wages have been felt immediately in the communities
along the platinum belt northwest of Johannesburg.
Patrick Tlou, 48, the owner of the Phomolong Tavern, where
Majodina and a few other men were sitting in a circle on plastic
chairs drinking beer, said his trade was suffering.
"Business is very down. It's because of the strike. Many of
my customers have gone home," he said.
Home for most miners is the villages they hail from in
places such as Eastern Cape province, hundreds of miles away.
This is where Majodina keeps his cattle. After sending money
home for years to his family, he will now have to draw on his
cows and kin to see him through the strike.
"On April 1, I will go to the local Shoprite store and get
300 rand that my mother will send me out of her pension cheque.
But normally I send money home," he said.
As for his cattle, it's a buyer's market as desperation sets
in among miners, many of whom own livestock back in their rural
"If I say I want 6,000 rand for this animal, someone will
say I only have 4,000 rand, and I will have to take it."
Elsewhere in Rustenburg, Ig Bronkhorst, owner of Campworld,
which sells caravans and camping gear, said his business was
also badly affected, though his typical client would be in a
higher income bracket than the striking AMCU members, who are at
the bottom of the mine wage scale.
"My business is down at least 30 percent since the strike
started. It goes wider than the guys working on the mine. It is
also the contractors and the suppliers for the mines, and many
of them are my customers," he said.
"People are bringing back caravans to sell because they need
money," he said.
($1 = 10.7320 South African Rand)
(Additional reporting by Jan Harvey in London; Editing by Will