12,000 Sacked as S. Africa Mine Strike Turns Deadly

Oct. 5, 2012
The strike has cost Anglo American Platinum, the world's biggest platinum producer, $80 million in lost revenue.

The world's biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, sacked 12,000 striking workers in South Africa Friday, just hours after a miner was killed in clashes with police.

Anglo American Platinum said the miners failed to appear before disciplinary hearings "and have therefore been dismissed in their absence."

Around 28,000 workers have been on strike for three weeks at the firm's sprawling mines in Rustenburg, in the north of the country, demanding better pay and conditions.

The company said the strike had so far cost 700 million rand (US$80 million) in lost revenue.

In a bid to halt further losses, Amplats on Monday warned wildcat strikers that they would be sacked if they failed to attend hearings.

On Friday, it made good on that threat.

"Despite the company's repeated calls for employees to return to work, we have continued to experience attendance levels of less than 20%," the firm said.

Violence Escalates

The standoff has intensified this week, with at least six people killed as miners showed no sign of dropping their demands for higher pay.

Late Thursday one miner was killed when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group of 300 illegal strikers protesting on a hilltop close to the mines.

The independent police watchdog is investigating the man's death "as the incident appeared to have arisen from police action," according to police spokeswoman Emelda Setlhako.

"The crowd began stoning the police who then had to use stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them," spokesman Setlhako said.

The victim has not been officially identified, but colleagues told AFP the man, in his late 40s, was from the rural Eastern Cape province and had been a rock drill operator at the Bleskop shaft, one of several at the sprawling complex.

On Friday police cordoned off the hill with red tape as investigators examined the scene, while strikers barricaded roads close by with tires and rocks.

"The situation is tense," said local police spokesman Thulani Ngubane.

History Repeats Itself

It is not the first time South Africa has seen a mass sacking during a wage dispute. In February, Amplats' rival Impala Platinum fired 17,000 workers, only to rehire them a few weeks later as part of a wage agreement.

Amplats on Friday indicated it was open to "exploring the possibility of bringing forward wage negotiations within our current agreements."

Meanwhile a small group of defiant miners congregated close to the hill accused police of other killings and waging nightly raids with teargas.

"We are only waiting for the money," said Mikael Rafuza, a 54-year-old who has worked at the mine for more than a decade and is demanding a wage of 16,070 rand (US$1,300, 1,450 euro) a month. "I don't go to work before."

With around 100,000 workers currently on strike across the country, President Jacob Zuma -- who has publically kept his distance from the crisis -- on Thursday called for the work stoppages to end.

Speaking to business leaders in Johannesburg, he warned the strikes would hurt South Africa's ability to attract more investment and growth.

"We should not seek to portray ourselves as a nation that is perpetually fighting."

He added that business and labor needed "to ensure shop floor peace and stability in the country, in order for us to continue the collective responsibility of promoting economic growth and development."

The wave of strikes began two months ago with a deadly wildcat work stoppage by 28,000 miners at a Lonmin platinum mine in August. That unrest ended with an up to 22% pay rise, but not before 46 people had died.

The pay rises have emboldened other workers in the strike-prone country, Africa's largest economy.Since then industrial action has spread from platinum to gold mining and other sectors.

Analysts have warned that the strikers' demands will result in job losses in the country where one in every four employable people is out of a job.

On Thursday, major gold miners and unions agreed to review wages and pay grades for entry-level workers.

-Claudine Renaud, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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