WATCH | West Coast livelihoods in danger as steel plant closes

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“We want steel, we want steel!’ These were the chants of dozens of Saldanha steel workers picketing in front of the West Coast plant.
“We want steel, we want steel!’ These were the chants of dozens of Saldanha steel workers picketing in front of the West Coast plant.
Bertram Malgas

"We want steel, we want steel!" These were the chants of dozens of Saldanha steel workers picketing in front of the West Coast plant on Thursday.  

Employees at the ArcelorMittal site have received notices that operations will shut down in February 2020. The steel production plant has been running since 1998. It provides over 2 000 jobs to towns along the West Coast. 

Sammy Claassen of the South African Social & Economic Development Forum (SASEDF) says the surrounding communities are heavily reliant on the plant for work.

Shutdown will be a disaster

"The impact of the shutdown will be a disaster. This plant can’t become another white elephant. It can’t be that we have a manufacturing plant that has the ability to produce quality steel for the export market and it needs to be closed down," Claassen said.

With the high unemployment rate in the area, the plant not only provides jobs to the youth, but also specialised skills to the industry.

"If you look at the labour force of this plant, it’s a young labour force. Not only that, they are skilled. There is no unskilled labour at this plant. Engineers, technicians, artisans… If this plant closes down, our ability as a steel producing country will be lost. All of these workers will have to seek work overseas."

Bracing for the worst

One of these workers, Micheal Schaffers from Vredenburg, who is putting his son through university, says he’s bracing for the worst.

"For me as a husband with a wife and kids, it’s going be difficult. The fact that you know the plant will be closing, it starts to work on me… because you need to think about tomorrow. When they look for food, they will look to me to provide," he said.

As the festive season nears, Schaffers and his colleagues will still receive their salaries. But it’s knowing that he will start the new year without a job that makes him uneasy. 

Panicked workers are asking government to step in and help save their jobs.

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