Johannesburg - Nine people including
two policemen have been killed in clashes between labour unions at a
South African mine operated by world number three platinum producer
Lonmin [JSE:LON], by far the deadliest spate of violence in a turf
war rocking the sector.
Police told Reuters two policemen died
after a machete attack by a mob near the mine. Another officer was
badly injured and police in turn shot dead three protestors.
"We came under attack. The
suspects took our weapons. A shootout ensued and during that incident
three suspects were fatally injured," spokesman Lindela Mashigo
Lonmin said the situation remained
"volatile" at its Western Platinum mine, 100 km northwest
of Johannesburg. The plant was operating at reduced capacity and was
under heavy police guard.
"We are expecting the situation to
return to calm given the level of security on site," executive
vice president Barnard Mokwena said.
The mine is part of Lonmin's Marikana
operations, which produced 1.3 million ounces of platinum group
metals in 2011. Company officials could not say how much production
had been lost but they are expected to update the market later this
In London, Lonmin shares were down more
The clashes involve a struggle for
membership between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)
and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union
At least three people were killed in a
similar round of violence in January that led to a six-week closure
of the world's largest platinum mine, run by Impala Platinum Holdings
The whole platinum sector is grappling
with declining world prices for the precious metal and a surge in
union militancy in South Africa, home to 80% of known reserves.
Aquarius Platinum Limited [JSE:AQP]
briefly shut one of its shafts this month after an attack by
unidentified assailants that left three dead and at least 20 injured.
The latest round of blood-letting is
the worst yet. Two security guards were hacked to death on Sunday,
while NUM said one of its members was killed late on Sunday after
being ambushed while trying to report for duty.
Lonmin said a fourth employee had been
found dead with several gunshot wounds.
The trouble began on Friday with an
illegal strike by 3 000 rock drill operators at Western Platinum
mine, echoing previous incidents when AMCU has tried to recruit NUM
January's stoppage at Implats also
started with an illegal strike by rock drillers.
NUM and Lonmin officials told Reuters
workers who wanted to report for duty were being intimidated. AMCU
has faced the same allegations elsewhere but has always denied them.
General Secretary Jeff Mphahlehle told
Reuters he was to have an emergency meeting with Lonmin management on
Monday and said members of his union had also been attacked.
The AMCU/NUM rivalry, which has already
caused friction at Lonmin's Karee mine, has now spread to other
shafts at a time when the company is cutting back on investment plans
in the face of weak demand and shrinking margins.
The challenge to the dominance of the
300 000-strong NUM also has political ramifications given its role as
a key support base for the ruling African National Congress.
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