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South Africa strikes spill into transport sector

South Africa is struggling to quell a wave of strikes that have crippled the key mining sector and now threaten to spark fuel and food shortages, as transport workers became the latest to go on strike Tuesday.

Unions representing an estimated 28,000 truckers said poor pay and conditions had prompted them to launch the latest in a rash of sometimes deadly strikes that threaten to spook investors and curb growth in the emerging nation.

Drivers are seeking a 12-percent wage increase for 2013 and 2014, more than the rate of inflation, which stands at 5.0 percent.

Last week President Jacob Zuma said stoppages in the mining sector in the past nine months had cost the economy close to 4.5 billion rand ($534 million, 415 million euros).

Firms in the transport and mining sectors on Tuesday tried to end the standoffs at the negotiating table, although progress appeared to be slow.

Road Freight Association spokesperson Magretia Brown said no deal had yet been reached with transport workers, but talks were ongoing.

Meanwhile Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) workers, who have been on a wildcat strike which is now on its second week, held their first day of talks.

The strike has shut down operations at the world’s top platinum producer.

“We expect Anglo American to come with something on the table and if they are unable to do that, the strike will continue and it will be the start of the (formal) strike,” said Gaddhafi Mdoda, a workers representative.

Amplats had threatened to dismiss the miners, who have been on a two-week wildcat strike, if they missed work on September 19. Since then however, the company has pushed back the deadline several times.

The latest deadline was set for last Monday evening.

Amplats accounts for 38 percent of global platinum production, providing a resource that is key in products ranging from vehicles to jewelry. It is the subsidiary of the country’s largest private-sector employer, Anglo American.

Workers are pushing for at least the 11- to 22-percent raises that London-listed Lonmin’s miners at the nearby Marikana mine received after a deadly strike that left 46 dead, 35 of whom were killed by police in a day of bloodshed that revived memories of apartheid.

Amplats workers have ditched their labour unions and are representing themselves at the talks.

There have been fears the Lonmin deal set a dangerous precedent, as the workers secured the deal by bypassing recognised union structures.

The country’s labour movement has been formalised for decades and, in theory at least, the unions had exclusive negotiating rights with employers.

Striking Amplats workers gathered peacefully by the mineshaft Tuesday waiting for updates from their representatives.

Police spokesman Dennis Adriao said there had been no reports of violence by the strikers.

Wildcat strikes have already spread to other gold, platinum and chrome mines, including Gold Fields, the world’s number four gold producer.

Gold Fields has obtained urgent interdicts against the workers who have been on strike since September 9 at two of its operations in the gold basin west of Johannesburg.

“The company has received urgent interdicts for KDC West as well as Beatrix West, and is applying for an interdict for the remainder of the Beatrix mine,” Gold Fields said in a statement.

“The company is evaluating all options to deal with the unlawful strikes.”

The strike by the majority of the 15,000 workforce has halted production at both operations.

Workers at AngloGold Ashanti, near the town of Orkney some 180 kilometres (110 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, have also gone on strike.

“Workers at one of our mines in South Africa, at Kopanang mine, have gone on strike. It started last night and is continuing today,” spokesman Alan Fine told AFP.