Miners sit together during a strike calling for increased wages, at a platinum mine in Marikana on August 16, 2012.
Miners sit together during a strike calling for increased wages, at a platinum mine in Marikana on August 16, 2012. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

Police in South Africa have shot and killed 34 workers at a platinum mine. It's a reminder that our precious metals come from some pretty unstable places. A dispute between two feuding unions at the mine turned against police, who opened fire. In itself, the event is not a huge shock to global supply. But platinum prices are rising.

Peter Major is a mining consultant with Cadiz Corporate Solutions. He's in Cape Town, South Africa, and says platinum consumers in the West and elsewhere in the world will feel the effects of this, but only barely so, because prices have been so low for so long. "Platinum is a very reusable commodity, so auto catalysts are being recycled. Jewelry is a very large component, maybe 35 percent, but people stop buying platinum jewelry when it gets up to $1,800 to $2,000 an ounce," says Major. "And basically the growth in platinum off-take hasn't kept up with the supply."

Major says he does unfortunately expect more violence. "There's an underlying current here, because the miners are used to double-digit wage increases for the last 10 years, and the mines could pay that because they were getting 15 and 20 percent increases in the platinum price for the last 10 years. But now, the last few years, with the platinum price going flat, the mines can't continue paying 10, 11, 12, 13 percent wage increases. So that's not going to sit well with the rest of the labor force."

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.

Follow Jeff Horwich at @jeffhorwich