South African strikers vow to cripple mining industry

13th September 2012, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of protesting miners vowed on Thursday to cripple South Africa's mining industry a day after bringing the world's top platinum producer to a standstill.

Around 5,000 workers were addressed by activists at a sports stadium at Anglo American Platinum's Rustenburg complex, where security guards stood watch over shuttered mine shaft entrances after operations were halted over safety fears.

"By the evening of Sunday all the mining industries in Rustenburg will be on its knees," said Mametlwe Sebei, a non-Anglo American employee from the Democratic Socialist Movement political party.

"Only ourselves and no one else can liberate our country. We're starting with a mining strike here in Rustenburg, but we're next week going to march to the Union Buildings," the seat of government in Pretoria, Sebei told the crowd.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) become the second top platinum producer to be paralysed by growing labour strife as it shut down five of its mines on Wednesday along the rich deposits of northwestern town Rustenburg's platinum belt.

In the same region is London-listed Lonmin's Marikana operation, where 45 people have died since a wildcat stayaway started last month, and where worker turnout plunged to 1.13 percent on Thursday.

"The memorandum has been handed over, the strike is going on," Siphamandla Makhanya, a worker representative and Amplats winch operator, told AFP after workers' demands were given to the company.

Amplats workers are demanding 12,500 rand ($1,487, 1,152 euros) in an echo of the wage strike that has hit Lonmin since August 10 and escalated into a deadly police shooting on August 16 that killed 34 people.

"At least the minimum that we can expect will be 12,500. If they fail this, the Anglo American must take everything in South Africa, including their children, and go to America," said Makhanya.

"We're going to ask our government to rule this company."

The company has denied its employees are on strike, saying that it suspended production after workers were intimidated with the threat of violence.

But workers waved their blue employee cards behind Makhanya as he said Anglo was lying.

"The company knows that we are Anglo Americans. Because now they're starting to send a message to us that we must come back. How are you going to send a message to someone that's not working" for the company, rebutted Makhanya.

The labour strife at Amplats -- which produces around 40 percent of global platinum output -- is the latest to hit South Africa's key mining industry, with 15,000 Gold Fields workers having downed tools since Sunday near Johannesburg.

Some workers carried sticks, metal spears and whips Thursday. Carrying traditional weapons is an age-old custom in South Africa practiced at major events including labour strikes.

"We're going to take this case to the whole South Africa," said Makhanya.

Amplats management said it had received the workers' memorandum and that management was reviewing it. The company has said it will only reopen when operations can safely resume.

"It's a fluid situation, we're trying to manage it as best we can," Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole told AFP.

Meanwhile, mediated talks to break a deadlock at Lonmin, the world's number-three producer, resumed Thursday with mine management, unions and worker delegations.

"We are encouraged that talks (between all parties) have restarted," said Lonmin in a statement.

"We remain convinced that the best way to unlock the current situation is by negotiating."

A total of 45 people have died since the Lonmin strike started.

© 2012 AFP

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