South Africa's key mining sector is set to shed thousands of jobs in the first quarter of next year and could see more strikes which recently rocked the industry, a top official said on Friday.
"In terms of the retrenchments next year, first quarter... I don't know the numbers but I can tell you it's probably in the thousands, possibly going above ten (thousand) and maybe higher," Chamber of Mines CEO Bheki Sibiya told the Cape Town Press Club.
"Some people above ground are going to be retrenched and some people below ground are going to be retrenched because the industry is now literally between the rock and the hard place."
South Africa's mines, which directly contribute nine percent of GDP, were hit by a wave of paralysing wildcat strikes from August that came on the back of already tough conditions that hit profitability.
More stayaways may also be on the cards next year as rival unions jostled for power, as seen at Harmony Gold on Thursday where two miners were killed in a turf battle.
A smaller and upstart union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), is seeking to muscle in the membership of the traditional National Union of Mines (NUM) which has dominated for decades.
Sibiya said the industry would struggle to get the NUM and AMCU to negotiate and predicted that 2013 would will be "extremely difficult" for negotiations, he said.
"Therefore we may experience industrial action. However, because there would be retrenchments in the first quarter of 2013, they may affect really the intensity of the strikes," he said.
The country was rocked by a wave of deadly strikes that spiralled out of Lonmin's platinum mine in August when police shot dead 34 protesters.