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South Africa hosts major mining conference amid labor strife

South Africa's platinum mine workers stage a protest after they rejected a fresh wage offer at a public meeting in Marikana on January 30, 2014 vowing to continue a week-long strike that has brought the sector to a stand-still.

The big money business in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is mining, and that industry's annual conference is playing out today against a back drop of labor tensions in South Africa. The BBC's Lerato Mbele joined us from Cape Town to give perspective on how exploration for minerals and other resources is drawing prospectors to the continent.

"Explorers are very busy prospecting and looking for opportunities in countries such as Ivory Coast, inj Mail, in Tanzania, in Ghana," says Mbele, "Those who are looking for oil are in Sudan, Angola, and other such areas."

China, Mbele says, is an increasingly big player in the region as it consumers more and more African resources.

"Never before has mining and the story of commodities been more relevant for Africa's growth and development than it is now," she says, "Unfortunately on the downside, labor unrest has really been the blemish on the prospects and opportunities that exist."

Today's conference, in fact, happens against the backdrop of a strike by platinum workers in South Africa.

"They are saying, 'We go deep below the Earth's surface to mine this resource, it sells at premium prices internationally, the least you can do is pay us what is decent,'" Mbele says, "Unfortunately plantinum mining is a distressed sector."

The economic downturn, among other things, has hurt global demand for platinum, making it difficult for companies to meet the workers demands. But for many of the workers, Mbele says, the issue is one of social justice as well as economics.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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