By Ed Stoddard
RANDFONTEIN, South Africa (Reuters) - The number of miners killed in South Africa's mines fell in 2016 to a new record low of 73 from 77 in 2015 thanks to a government drive to improve practices, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said on Thursday.
Unions in South Africa, the world's top platinum producer, say the death toll is still too high. It was the ninth consecutive year that fatalities fell in the country, where the government has strived to make the industry improve an appalling safety record. Under apartheid, hundreds died in mining accidents annually.
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"If you can't mine safely, don't mine at all," Zwane said at a news briefing at the corporate offices of bullion producer Harmony Gold west of Johannesburg.
"We welcome the progress ... but families are still losing their loved ones," he said.
Zwane said 30 miners were killed in the gold sector in 2016, 27 in platinum, four in coal and 12 in others such as copper, diamonds and iron ore. There was also a decrease in injuries to 2,662 in 2016 from 3,138 in 2015.
South Africa is home to the world's deepest mines where workers labour up to 4 km (2-1/2 miles) beneath the surface.
Mining firms, major employers in an economy with a 25 percent jobless rate, have complained that a safety drive introduced by the ministry in recent years has cost it billions of rand in lost output annually. Entire operations have been shut for what the companies consider minor infractions.
In November, a Labour Court decision overturned a government-imposed safety stoppage at an AngloGold Ashanti mine, ruling that the blanket stoppage of the entire mine because of infractions related to tramming and the storage of explosives in one section was disproportionate.
Zwane also said he aimed to finish revisions to a charter to redress racial imbalances in the post-apartheid mining industry in the first quarter of 2016 or the next quarter "at the latest".
Launched in 2002, the charter was revised in 2010 and the government is again redrawing targets, which include requirements for black ownership.
(Editing by James Macharia and Raissa Kasolowsky)