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Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world’s biggest platinum producer, has fired 12,000 striking South African miners after a protracted strike over wages.
Amplats said three weeks of illegal strikes by 28,000 workers in Rustenburg had cost it 39,000 ounces in output – or 700 million rand ($82.3 million) in revenue.
South African mining has been hit by a wave of wildcat strikes, in which miners and officials have been killed.
Thirty-four platinum miners were shot dead by police on 16 August.
A separate strike is continuing at another mining firm, GoldFields, which is the world’s fourth-largest gold miner.
On Tuesday, GoldFields evicted 5,000 striking employees from company dormitories, saying they were intimidating fellow workers.
In all, about 75,000 miners are currently on strike in the gold and platinum sectors, most of them illegally, analysts say.
With unemployment in South Africa already at 25%, the mass dismissal will deal a blow both to the country’s weak economic growth and to President Jacob Zuma’s reputation as leader.
His governing ANC party is holding a leadership contest in December, and some members are already calling for Jacob Zuma to be replaced by his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.
Explaining its decision on Friday, Amplats said the miners had failed to attend disciplinary hearings and had therefore been dismissed.
Attendance levels of less than 20% meant four of the company’s mining operations in Rustenburg could not operate properly.
Employees would learn the outcome of disciplinary hearings later on Friday, and would have three days to appeal over their outcome, said the company.
“Approximately 12,000 striking employees chose not to make representations, nor attend the hearings, and have therefore been dismissed in their absence,” it added.
Amplats’ chief executive Chris Griffith said the company was still committed to participating in centralized engagement structures driven by the chamber of mines, “as well as exploring the possibility of bringing forward wage negotiations within our current agreements”.
The ANC Youth League said it was “deeply disturbed and angered by the irrational and illogical firing”.
“This action demonstrates the insensibility and insensitivity of the company… which has made astronomical profits on the blood, sweat and tears of the very same workers that today the company can just fire with impunity,” said the league, which this week said it was backing Kgalema Motlanthe against President Zuma in the ANC contest.
“Amplats is a disgrace and a disappointment to the country at large, a representation of white monopoly capital out of touch and uncaring of the plight of the poor.
The league pledged solidarity with the dismissed workers and called upon “all progressive forces” to support the call for their immediate return.
Earlier, officials denied strikers’ accusations that a protester had been shot dead by the police during unrest at an Amplats mine.
Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said the death had nothing to with the police action to disperse about 200 protesters near Rustenburg, 100 km (60 miles) north-west of Johannesburg.
The body had been recovered and an investigation started, he told AFP.
The hill where the clashes occurred is littered with empty tear gas canisters and shell casings, which the workers said had contained rubber bullets fired by police, Reuters news agency reported.
The workers at the Marikana platinum mine where 34 people were shot dead returned to work last month after receiving pay rises far higher than the rate of inflation.
A commission of inquiry into the deaths of the 34 and 10, including two police officers, previously killed during the unrest began earlier this week.
South African police have fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters near a mine owned by Anglo American Platinum, a day after a deal ended a strike in Marikana.
“We are not tolerating any illegal gatherings,” a police spokesman said.
Workers at the Lonmin-owned Marikana platinum mine ended their six-week strike after accepting a 22% pay rise.
The strikes have spread to other mines in South Africa, one of the world’s biggest producers of precious metals.
On Monday, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said that the disruption had cost the industry $548 million in lost output.
The unrest came as Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world’s largest platinum producer, re-opened its mines after they were closed last week following huge protests.
South African police have fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters near a mine owned by Anglo American Platinum
Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said the mines in Rustenburg, the centre of South Africa’s platinum mining – about 80 km (50 miles) north-east of Johannesburg – were operational.
She said the police had “dispersed a group of people gathering illegally at Sondela informal settlement [near the mine]” and said it was not clear if they were Amplats workers.
“Police utilized tear gas and stun grenades, and rubber bullets were used at the squatter camp,” said police spokesman Captain Dennis Adriao.
“As we have said, we are not tolerating any illegal gatherings,” he said.
After weeks of unrest, the government last week announced that it would clamp down on the protests.
In the nearby Marikana mine, where police last month shot dead 34 protesters, workers were celebrating the end of the strike, reports the AP news agency.
Riddick Mofokeng, another miner, said he felt good about the deal.
“It is not what we expected to get, but it is great,” he said.
“Most of the people, we are ready to go back to work.”
The miners had been demanding a monthly salary of 12,500 rand ($1,513) – they currently earn between 4,000 and 5,000 rand.
As well as a pay rise of 11-22%, they will get a one-off payment of 2,000 rand to help cover the weeks of not being paid while they were on strike.
Analysts had warned that the Lonmin deal could encourage other mines to down tools to obtain pay hikes.
Some 15,000 miners at Gold Fields remain on strike.
Last month, police opened fire on demonstrators at the mine in Marikana, killing 34 striking workers. Ten people, including two police officers, had already died in the protests.
President Jacob Zuma has ordered a judicial inquiry into what has become known as the “Marikana massacre” – the deadliest police action since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Miners arrested at Lonmin Marikana mine in South Africa will be charged later with the murder of 34 colleagues shot by police, an official has said.
A prosecuting authority spokesman said that 270 workers would be tried under the “common purpose” doctrine.
They were in the crowd which confronted the police, who opened fire, sparking a national outcry.
Police have not been charged because a commission of inquiry would investigate their actions, the spokesman said.
Miners arrested at Lonmin Marikana mine in South Africa will be charged later with the murder of 34 colleagues shot by police
Six of the 270 workers remain in hospital, after being wounded in the 16 August shooting at the mine owned by Lonmin, the world’s third biggest platinum producer, in South Africa’s North West province.
The other 264 workers are appearing in the Garankuwa magistrates court near the capital, Pretoria.
About 100 people are protesting outside court, demanding their immediate release.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Frank Lesenyego said they would all face murder charges – including those who were unarmed or were at the back of the crowd.
“This is under common law, where people are charged with common purpose in a situation where there are suspects with guns or any weapons and they confront or attack the police and a shooting takes place and there are fatalities,” he said.
Frank Lesenyego said the updated indictments had already been given to the defence and these would be formally delivered to the accused in court, starting on Thursday.
The conflict at the mine was triggered by a dispute over pay and union recognition, which has paralyzed operations for three weeks.
During a visit to the mine after the killings, President Jacob Zuma told workers he “felt their pain” and promised a speedy and thorough investigation of the killings.
Police said they started shooting after being threatened by large groups of miners armed with machetes.
Ten people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed during the protests before the police shooting.
Miners are being intimidated into staying away from work at the South African Lonmin platinum mine where 34 people were recently shot dead by police, the owners say.
Lonmin says just 13% of workers have reported for duty on Monday and says miners have been threatened.
Hundreds of miners have reportedly gathered outside the mine, amid a heavy police presence.
Leaders of the ruling ANC are expected to discuss the deaths.
The ANC has been criticized for the way the matter was handled, and President Jacob Zuma is expected to face tough questions at the closed-door meeting.
Lonmin says just 13 percent of workers have reported for duty on Monday and says miners have been threatened
Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer, had hoped that the strike at the Marikana platinum mine would end and production would resume.
“Employees are waiting for the environment to be safe. Groups of people are walking around intimidating people who come onto the property,” said Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey.
Alfonso Mofokeng, a miner from Lesotho, told the AFP news agency: “We are aware that some people have gone back to work, we have noted that behavior, and we need to come up with a plan to deal with them.”
The 13% turnout is a sharp drop from the 30% who turned up for work last week and 57% at the weekend.
Operations at Lonmin’s mines have virtually ground to a halt since the strike over pay and conditions began earlier this month, causing international platinum prices to jump.
Meanwhile, an investigation has opened into allegations that miners were assaulted in police custody, a spokesman for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate has confirmed.
Moses Dlamini said that some people said they were beaten with batons and fists in order to implicate their colleagues in the killing of two police officers days before the miners were shot dead.
He said that others were allegedly assaulted because they gave statements to those investigating the shooting.
He added that the IPID was treating the killing of the 34 miners as murder.
President Jacob Zuma is expected to face an uneasy time when he meets the ANC’s National Executive Committee.
Many members are said to be livid at the way the matter is being handled.
The “Marikana Massacre” – as it has dubbed by the media – has prompted serious questions about the ANC’s ability under Jacob Zuma to improve the lives of poor black South Africans.
Jacob Zuma faces a leadership contest this year, and the fact that so many of the killed miners were from the politically significant Eastern Cape Province could play into the hands of his rivals in an increasingly fragmented party, our correspondent adds.
In a blow to the president, the party’s largest section in Eastern Cape has just voted for an anti-Zuma candidate as its leader.
Jacob Zuma earlier expressed sympathy with some of the grievances expressed by the Marikana miners.
He argued the mining sector could afford to increase wages and threatened companies that fail to raise workers’ housing standards with the cancellation of their mining licences.
During a recent visit to the mine, Jacob Zuma told workers he “felt their pain” and promised a speedy and thorough investigation of the shootings.
The president has also set up a commission to investigate the violence.
Police say they opened fire after being threatened by large groups of miners armed with machetes.
Ten people, including two police officers and security guards, were killed during the protests – before the police shooting.
Mining giant Lonmin has dropped its threat to fire miners who failed to return to work at a South African mine after deadly clashes last week.
Lonmin’s decision came after the government appealed to the firm to drop its ultimatum to sack workers if they failed to end their strike by Tuesday.
Last week, police shot dead 34 strikers at the Marikana mine.
The South African parliament is due to debate the killings on Tuesday, amidst a national outcry, reports say.
South African President Jacob Zuma has a declared a week of national mourning and has promised to appoint a commission of inquiry into the shooting.
Mining giant Lonmin has dropped its threat to fire miners who failed to return to work at a South African mine after deadly clashes last week
Mark Munroe, Lonmin’s executive vice president, said firing thousands of workers would not necessarily ease tension.
“I don’t think it’s going to contribute to a more stable environment if Lonmin goes out and puts deadlines and ultimatums and says we will fire everyone if no one comes to work,” he said.
A minister in Jacob Zuma’s office, Collins Chabane, said Lonmin had agreed to suspend its ultimatum in talks with the government.
“I think we need to try to temper the flare-up of emotions on all sides and try to find a reasonable solution to address the problems,” he said on local radio, AFP news agency reports.
Senior opposition party members visited the mine in North West province ahead of a special parliamentary sitting that will debate the incident, South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper reports.
“We have heard the workers concerns and we have familiarized ourselves with the situation. We will now be in a better position to ask the right questions in parliament,” opposition United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa is quoted as saying.
About 3,000 rock-drill operators (RDOs) walked out more than a week ago in support of demands for higher pay.
The strike was declared illegal by Lonmin, the world’s third-largest platinum producer, and the mine was shut.
Clashes between strikers, some holding clubs and machetes, and police culminated on Thursday when officers armed with automatic rifles and pistols fired dozens of shots.
The miners, who are currently earning between 4,000 and 5,000 rand ($484-$605) a month, say they want their salary increased to 12,500 rand ($1,512).
Nine people have been killed in clashes between rival unions at a South African mine owned by leading platinum producer Lonmin, police have said.
The dead included two policemen attacked by a mob, and three workers killed by officers, at the mine in North West province, police said.
The violence is linked to a battle for membership between a new and a long-established trade union.
South Africa has most one of the most unionized work forces in the world.
It is also the world’s biggest platinum producer, accounting for three quarters of global output.
Nine people have been killed in clashes between rival unions at a South African mine owned by leading platinum producer Lonmin
There has been a surge in inter-union violence at mines recently.
Earlier this month, another firm, Aquarius Platinum, briefly shut one of its shafts after an attack that left three dead and at least 20 injured, Reuters news agency reports.
Police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said the attackers were deploying “guerrilla tactics”, rapidly forming crowds to carry out attacks – in 5,000-strong mobs – before dispersing.
Lonmin said the situation was “volatile” at its Western Platinum mine, 100 km (60 miles) north-west of Johannesburg.
The plant was operating at reduced capacity and was under heavy police guard, it added.
Police spokesman Brigadier Lindela Mashigo said the two policemen were killed after a mob attacked them near the mine with machetes, Reuters reports.
Police responded by opening fire, killing three protesters, he said.
“We came under attack. The suspects took our weapons. A shoot-out ensued and during that incident three suspects were fatally injured,” the spokesman said.
The violence has been triggered by a turf war between the long-established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and a newcomer, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is more militant, analysts say.
In other cases of union violence at Western Platinum mine, two security guards were hacked to death on Sunday and another two had recently been burnt to death, said Brigadier Thulani Ngubane.
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, Reuters reports.