JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A security contractor was killed on Friday in an attempted armed robbery on a Harmony Gold plant west of Johannesburg, the latest fatal incident at a mining company in South Africa.
High gold prices are making processing plants a target for criminals in South Africa, leading to a spate of armed robberies at mining operations, and the head of the country’s main mining industry body called for more police resources to tackle the problem.
No gold was stolen from Harmony’s Kalgold plant, about 330 km (205 miles) from Johannesburg, in the attack in the early hours of Friday, the company said.
“A reaction unit supervisor employed by a contracted security company was fatally wounded in an armed attack on the plant... in the early hours of this morning,” Harmony Gold said in a statement.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) was investigating the incident, the miner said.
The Minerals Council, an industry body representing mining companies, said there have now been nine “significant” attacks on the gold industry in the past year, in which employees and security personnel have been held hostage and assaulted, and in two cases killed.
Minerals Council CEO Roger Baxter said a lack of police resources to prevent these violent assaults was a major threat to the industry.
“Essentially, the industry is under siege. These crimes are hurting South Africa’s investment and economic prospects and urgent action is required,” Baxter said in a statement calling for intervention from the Minister of Police and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.
In a similar incident in October, armed men broke into a metallurgical plant owned by DRDGOLD, killing the gold miner’s chief security officer and stealing calcine concentrate containing an estimated 17 kg of gold.
The price of gold - in U.S. dollars - has surged more than 15% this year, the strongest gain in the precious metal’s value since 2010.
In a country on the brink of recession, with unemployment at an 11-year high, illegal gold mining and trading, and armed robberies of gold plants are on the rise.
Escalating violence targeting some of its workers drove Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto to curtail operations at its South African unit Richards Bay Minerals, which mines ilmenite, rutile, and zircon, earlier this month.
Harmony said that due to the ongoing police investigation it would give no further information on the incident on Friday for the time being.
Reporting by Helen Reid; editing by David Evans and Susan Fenton