(Reuters) – South African workers at the world’s No. 3 platinum producer Lonmin (LONJ.J) (LMI.L) launched a wildcat strike on Tuesday, halting all mine operations and sparking fears of a return to the violence that rocked the industry last year.
As dusk fell, a strike leader told thousands of workers gathered at a stadium near Lonmin’s Marikana mine to return home and continue the strike on Wednesday. Workers told a Reuters reporter no one would show up for the night shift.
Activists also said they would go to shafts the next day to threaten those who showed up for work, using the Zulu word for “rat” to describe them. This follows a pattern of intimidation that has accompanied illegal strikes in South Africa.
The platinum belt towns of Rustenburg and Marikana, which saw violent strikes at Lonmin and other producers last year, are a flashpoint of labor strife, with tensions running high over looming job cuts and wage talks.
Aggravating the situation is a turf war between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – an ally of the ruling ANC that has lost many of its members to the more militant AMCU.
An NUM spokesman said Tuesday’s strike appeared to stem from anger over the killing of an AMCU member. A police statement said a 46-year-old man “alleged to be the regional organizer of AMCU” had been shot dead in a Rustenburg tavern on Saturday.
“DOWN WITH NUM”
The striking workers marched to the rocky outcrop near the Marikana mine where 34 strikers were shot dead by police in August last year and were then taken by bus to the stadium, an indication the strike had been planned.
Many chanted: “Down with NUM, we will destroy it today.”
The protesters said they were demanding the closure of the NUM offices at Lonmin, which said last week that AMCU now represented over 70 percent of its workforce.
Lonmin’s share price slid over 7 percent and the rand hit 3-week lows as investors worried about a repeat of 2012’s turmoil, which hammered platinum and gold production and triggered credit downgrades for Africa’s largest economy.
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