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S.Africa govt in final bid to help end platinum strike

The world’s largest platinum producers and striking South African miners were holding last-ditch talks under government mediation Monday in a bid to end a crippling five-month strike.

Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who in recent days injected fresh impetus into the stalled talks, said that Monday’s negotiations were the last his meditators would be involved in.

Ramatlhodi said he was “convinced we did enough work” for the negotiating parties to come to a settlement.

Ministry spokesman Mahlodi Muofhe would not be drawn on the state of the talks Monday apart from telling AFP “we believe that they are talking to each other in good terms”.

After months of standing on the sidelines, the government stepped in at the end of May to try break the deadlock between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the platinum mining firms.

The government became involved following several rounds of failed negotiations after 80,000 platinum mine workers downed tools at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin on January 23.

The strike helped push the economy in the first quarter of this year into its first contraction since the global economic crisis five years ago, raising the spectre of recession.

The country’s new Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene told the Financial Times he forecast a “growth of around 2 percent” this year.

The work stoppages have cost employees 22 billion rands ($2.0 billion) in revenue while workers have forfeited about 10 billion rands ($945 million) in wages and benefits, according to industry figures.

By the end of this week, the strike will have cost the industry more than a third of its annual production.

It has already affected 45 percent of global platinum supply, according to the mining firms operating on the belt which has the largest reserves of the metal used to make jewellery and catalytic converters in cars.

AMCU has demanded that the minimum monthly basic wage be doubled to $1,180 (866 euros), an amount the mining firms say they can’t afford.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has claimed the strike, the longest South African history, was being fuelled by political motives.

“It is a signal, small as it may sound, of foreign forces taking an active interest in destabilising South Africa and its economy,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said at the weekend.

He did not provide any proof or details to go with his allegations.

Mantashe also alleged that a senior official of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, had been directly involved in the wage negotiations between the platinum mine owners and the union.

This involvement indicated “the collaboration between foreign forces and internal forces in destabilising the country and the economy,” he said, again without providing any information to back his claims.

But the EFF said it was “unapologetic” about its support of the mineworker’s demands and that suggestions of foreign players in the strike was “cheap”.