South African mine strikes spread – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – September 13, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

JOHANNESBURG — Rampaging protesters are wreaking havoc in the world’s leading platinum sector, forcing the closure of another major mining operation as South African workers grow increasingly militant in the aftermath of a deadly police crackdown.

Anglo American Platinum Ltd., the top global producer, decided to shut down four of its shafts on Wednesday when about 1,500 protesting mine workers – many waving machetes and sticks – blockaded roads and marched to the company’s gates near Rustenburg in South Africa’s platinum belt.

Amplats said it closed the mines temporarily because it feared for the safety of its 19,000 workers, who were already facing threats from the protesters on Wednesday. South Africa produces about 80 per cent of the world’s platinum, and Amplats alone is responsible for nearly 40 per cent of the world’s production.

The wildcat strikes have also begun spreading into South Africa’s gold industry, with 15,000 workers off the job at Gold Fields Ltd., the world’s fourth-biggest gold producer. Security guards fired tear gas at thousands of protesting workers on Wednesday when the workers tried to stop a passing train at the mine site.

In total, three of South Africa’s largest mines are now at a standstill because of worsening labour unrest, with about 43,000 workers on strike or staying away from work.

The labour militancy, fuelled by hardline opponents of President Jacob Zuma, is inflicting heavy damage on the mining companies and on South Africa’s global reputation.

Lonmin PLC, the world’s third-biggest platinum producer, remains at the heart of the labour battles. At least 45 people have been killed in clashes near the company’s Marikana mine over the past few weeks, including at least 34 who were gunned down by police in the “Marikana massacre” on Aug. 16.

South Africa’s third major platinum producer, Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., endured its own violence-plagued strike for six weeks this year, and its workers are now demanding another pay increase. Impala is the world’s second-biggest producer.

At Lonmin, mediators have been struggling to solve the labour conflict with little success. The illegal strike at Marikana is now entering its second month, and only 1.8 per cent of workers reported to duty on Wednesday. The company is believed to be losing $4-million a day because of the wildcat strike, with losses reaching at least $90-million so far.

Violence has become endemic on all sides of the labour conflict. Two policemen were killed in the early stages of the Lonmin strike, and some of the protesting workers were reportedly shot in the back or deliberately murdered as they fled from police. Many of the 250 arrested workers at Marikana say they were tortured or beaten by police.

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