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Arrests after 4,000 rampage in S.Africa platinum belt

South African police have arrested four people for public order offences after thousands looted a shopping centre, burnt public buildings and chased away a government minister in the country’s restive platinum belt.

At least 4,000 protestors were involved in day of violence near the northern city of Rustenburg on Sunday, amid a simmering three-month long strike by platinum miners.

Police told AFP on Tuesday that four people had been arrested on charges of possession of stolen property and public violence in relation to the looting of a shopping centre.

Others are being investigated for arson and malicious damage to property.

The unrest began Sunday when protestors set fire to a municipal councillors house, community hall and a newly built municipal service centre, venting anger at the government a week before general elections.

Residents also pelted stones at the entourage of Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula who was campaigning ahead of the general election on May 7.

“The mob started attacking his entourage outside the premises by throwing stones at them,” said Brigadier Thulane Ngubane.

The minister was hastily evacuated in a bullet-proof vehicle, according to media reports.

Later a mob descended on the shopping complex, looting 11 shops as well as an electronic cash dispenser as outnumbered police looked on.

The crowd was finally dispersed in the early hours of Monday.

Such unrest is common in South Africa, with as many as 30 protests about poor basic services a day.

The Rustenburg area northwest of Johannesburg has seen violent unrest since 2012, when police shot dead 34 miners in one day at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

The latest convulsion comes amid a platinum sector strike that begun on January 23.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has demanded a basic wage of 12,500 rand ($1,180, 850 euros), more than double the current basic salary.

But mining firms Anglo American Platinum, Lonmin and Implats have said such a raise is unaffordable, leading talks to fall apart.