Disruptions to South Africa’s key mining sector increased as AngloGold Ashanti said on Wednesday that strikers have halted all its operations in the country, which provide 32 percent of the multinational’s gold production.
Strikes demanding higher salaries began at a Lonmin PLC platinum mine in Marikana on Aug. 10 and have spread to several others in the mining sector vital to Africa’s largest economy. The trouble at the Lonmin mine ended after police opened fire on demonstrating strikers on Aug. 16, killing 34 of them and wounding 78 in the worst state violence since apartheid ended in 1994. It traumatized the nation of 48 million, raising questions about the how much the poorest of the poor have benefited since the end of white rule.
While the bloody five-week strike at the Lonmin mine was resolved with workers gaining as much as 22 percent in pay hikes, strikes have now spread to other, mostly gold, mines around the country and workers are increasingly rejecting their own unions and choosing their own representatives to press demands directly with mining companies. The labor unrest moved on Monday to the transport sector with a major union saying 20,000 road freight employees are demanding a 12 percent pay rise.
AngloGold Ashanti spokesman Alan Fine said strikers prevented Tuesday’s night shift from starting at the company’s West Wits and Vaal River operations. They joined co-workers who downed tools at AngloGold’s Kopanang mine last week on Thursday.
Fine said strikers, who are among 36,000 workers at the three sites, have not yet made demands.
Hundreds of Anglo American Platinum Mine workers gathered at the Bleskop Stadium near Rustenburg on Wednesday to discuss the new terms they have given Amplats. Workers yesterday met with mine management and said they now demand a monthly take home pay of 12,500 rand (US$1,560). Strike leader Gaddafi Mdoda said the company will have seven days to respond.
Amplats called the strikes illegal in a statement released on Wednesday and yesterday threatened disciplinary action for employees who “persist in unlawful strike action.”
“We have repeatedly urged our employees to come back to work and I do so again,” Anglo American Platinum CEO Chris Griffith said.
Amplats is the world’s largest producer of the precious metal used in jewelry and to reduce carbon emissions of high-end vehicles.
Mining is a crucial sector in the South African economy. South Africa produces 75 percent of the world’s platinum and 7 percent of its gold, making it the fifth-biggest gold producer as well as the No. 4 chrome producer.
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) said on Wednesday industrial action will be consolidated “to ensure that the employers start feeling the heat and return to the negotiations table.”
Vincent Masogo of SATAWU said that at least 1,000 strikers started marching in South Africa’s eastern port city of Durban, and gatherings will continue in Johannesburg.
The transport union said there are no talks at the moment, and they hope the unrest will spread until a deal is reached.
A statement released by the Road Freight Employers Association (RFEA) on Wednesday said it went to negotiate with the unions on Tuesday thinking an in-principle agreement would be signed based on 18 days of prior negotiations. However, it was at that meeting it received the demand for a 12 percent increase in pay.