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Protesters block roads as platinum mining strike breaks

Zandi Shabalala

Miners burnt tyres, barricaded roads and set roadside stalls alight near Lonmin's platinum mine to stop fellow strikers from returning to work.

The march in North West was aimed at keeping striking workers united in their pursuit for higher wages. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Hundreds of traditional weapon-wielding miners barricaded roads and burnt down roadside vegetable stalls near Lonmin’s North West platinum mine on Tuesday in an attempt to block fellow strikers from breaking rank and going back to work.

Lonmin and other producers have appealed directly to striking miners to return to work, skirting the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has threatened that “something else” could happen if companies continue to address workers directly.

About 1 000 members blocked the main road leading to the mine shafts with rocks and burning tyres. They set fruit and vegetable stalls alight as they marched near Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

One protester, who declined to give his name, said the march was aimed at keeping striking workers united in their pursuit for higher wages.

“We will go back but we need money first ... We don’t want to be split into two, that’s all,” said one Amcu member outside the Lonmin mine.

Police presence
The South African Police Service sent more officers to the area on Tuesday to protect miners who have decided to ditch the 16-week strike that has halted 40% of regular global output and dented already sluggish growth in the country.

Rustenburg police spokesperson Thulani Ngubane said police had set up park-and-ride facilities around the mines to handle the arrivals.

It is unclear how many workers will be coming back but the three big platinum firms – Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin – say a majority of the 70 000 strikers they have contacted directly want to end the strike.

“We are prepared for any eventuality,” Ngubane said, although he acknowledged that it would be difficult to provide security for the miners in the settlements that ring the main mines. Four miners have been killed in the area in the past three days.

Four armoured police vehicles were stationed outside Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, where police killed 34 striking miners in 2012.

Amcu shop stewards said the police had broken up an illegal march by union members at Marikana.

Lengthy strike
Amcu members have been on strike at Amplats, Implats and Lonmin since January pressing for higher wages, but talks have gone nowhere.

Lonmin has said it expects more miners to start returning to work on Wednesday after it made its wage offer directly to employees, sidestepping Amcu.

Implats has been using SMSs to conduct a vote on its offer, which was expected to be concluded later on Tuesday. Amplats said a majority of its workers wanted to return to work.

“The main reason they are not coming to work is because they are being intimidated,” said Amplats spokesperson Mpumi Sithole.

The firm provided bus vouchers to its employees in the Eastern Cape province, where many miners have their homes, to return to Rustenburg and most of them had returned to the mines, she said.

The producers say the strike has so far cost them R17-billion in lost revenue and employees have lost nearly R8-billion in earnings.

Amcu angle
Amcu’s leaders maintain that most of their striking members are not happy with the latest offer of a raise in pay of up to 10%.

The companies say that would raise the overall minimum pay package to R12 500 a month by July 2017, including cash allowances for things like housing, but Amcu says this is not enough.

“We have remained so far apart. A deal with Amcu at this point in time seems completely out of the question,” Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith told regional radio station Talk Radio 702. Griffith added that most Amplats miners wanted to return to work.

Amcu initially demanded an immediate increase to R12 500 in the basic wage, excluding allowances, but softened that in March to staggered increases that would amount to R12 500 rand within three or four years – still a third more than what the companies are offering in basic salaries.

The strike highlights the discontent among black miners who feel they are still not reaping the benefits of the country’s mineral wealth two decades after the end of apartheid. - Reuters, additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Ed Cropley and Ed Stoddard

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