“The commission found that the proposed transaction is unlikely to substantially prevent or lessen competition in the thermal coal market,” it said January 11 following its decision, noting that the buyer and seller as smaller players facing competition by larger groups.

“[We] found that the proposed merger raises public interest concerns, in particular the likelihood of job losses. In this regard, the commission has recommended that the proposed transaction be approved on the condition that the merging parties will not retrench any employees of the target firms as a result of the merger.”

The Optimum thermal mine has been in business rescue, similar to bankruptcy protection in the United States, since last August after one of its customers, utility Eskom, cut off its orders over pricing issues.