Rustenburg - Striking platinum miners delivered much higher pay demands on
Thursday and threatened to spread industrial action further,
deepening a crisis that is becoming the biggest threat to the
ruling ANC since the end of apartheid.
In the face of the spiralling labour unrest in Africa's
biggest economy, President Jacob Zuma said the government would
crack down on anybody stirring up trouble.
"It is not just the miners striking. It also some people of
some description who are going there to instigate miners," said
Zuma, who faces an ANC leadership election in December. "We are
going to be acting very soon," he told Parliament in Cape Town.
What began as an industrial dispute has evolved into a
grass-roots rebellion by blacks who have seen little improvement
in their lives since white minority rule ended 18 years ago.
At a soccer stadium in the heart of the platinum belt,
thousands of workers heard a call from one protest leader for a
national strike to "bring the mining companies to their knees".
"On Sunday, we are starting with a general strike here in
Rustenburg," Mametlwe Sebei, from a fringe Marxist political
party, told the workers near the town which lies 100km northwest of Johannesburg.
He drew mild applause from the crowd, armed with sticks and
pangas, and it was unclear if the strike call would be heeded.
Despite the weapons, the strikers insisted their push for a
sharp hike in wages was peaceful - even after the 16 August police
shooting of 34 protesters at Lonmin's nearby
Marikana platinum mine.
"There should be no blood," one placard read.
As investors started to fret about the impact on wider
economic growth, the rand fell more than one percent
against the dollar - compounding a 3 percent slide on Wednesday.
Mining accounts for 6% of South Africa's output.
Most men at the soccer stadium said they worked for top
producer Anglo American Platinum, commonly known as
Amplats, which suspended operations at its four Rustenburg mines
on Wednesday after they were blockaded by marchers.
A group of more than 100 chanting strikers, many waving
sticks and "knobkerry" clubs, accompanied protest leaders as
they delivered a written memorandum laying out their demands to
Amplats management offices near the Bleskop stadium.
Police armoured vehicles kept the larger crowd of miners
inside the stadium, within sight of a white clubhouse painted
with Amplats corporate slogans such as "We value and care about
each other" and "We are one team".
The demands were for an increase of basic pay and allowances
to R16 000 a month - nearly three times their
current salary and more than double per capita GDP in the
continent's richest country.
As the stick-waving miners accompanied their leaders back to
the stadium, they chanted: "We won't give up!"
They said they would not return to work until top management
- including Cynthia Carroll, chief executive of Amplats parent
company Anglo American - came to hear them out.
"She must come to the workers," a 32-year-old called Kasigo
told Reuters. "If they don't come, we won't work."
Amplats confirmed it had received the demands and was
monitoring the situation closely.
The labour unrest began with a violent six-week strike at
Impala Platinum in January. It intensified in
mid-August, sending platinum prices up 20 percent since then.
It stems from a challenge by the small but militant
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) to the
dominance of the ANC-affiliated National Union of
Mineworkers(NUM) and is also spreading into the gold sector.
World number four producer Gold Fields said NUM
officials came under attack when they tried to address wildcat
strikers at its KDC West mine near Johannesburg, where 15,000
men downed tools last week.
ANC renegade Julius Malema - the de facto face of an
unofficial "Anyone but Zuma" rebellion in the ANC - has entered
the fray, accusing the polygamous Zuma of being more interested
in arranging weddings than trying to clean up the mess.
Ministers and NUM leaders have dismissed Malema as an
irresponsible opportunist but the expelled Youth League leader
is becoming a star for the legions of South Africa's
impoverished black majority.
"People who believe that Malema does not present a danger to
South Africa have missed the point," said Richard Faber, a fixed
income trader at Johannesburg brokerage Worldwide Capital. "It
is his ideology that presents the danger and that is gathering
The platinum price held steady on Thursday near the
5-month high it hit following the Amplats shut-downs.
Amplats shares fell as much 1.8% in early trade
before bouncing to be up 1.3% by 14:00 GMT.
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