The South African mining industry is undergoing “severe strain” due to the economic downturn with cuts to about 25,000 jobs so far this year, the country’s mining minister has announced.

Government initiatives have limited the job losses, which could have hit the 100,000 mark at the start of the global crisis, Mining Minister Susan Shabangu told Reuters.

The unemployment rate in the country is over 23% with about 179,000 job cuts reported in the first quarter of 2009, according to the national statistics agency.

The mining industry accounts for 50% of South Africa’s exports.