Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the largest producer of platinum in the world, on Wednesday afternoon said it would immediately suspend its operations near Rustenburg (and near Lonmin's Marikana mine) because of the threat to its workers.
"Our employees are not on strike," said CEO Chris Griffith in a statement. "However, in light of the current volatile situation in the Rustenburg area, where our employees, who want to go to work, are being prevented from doing so and are being intimidated by the threat of violence, Anglo American Platinum has decided to suspend its operations in the Rustenburg area with immediate effect. The suspension will continue until such time as operations can be safely resumed."
Earlier on Wednesday, a leader of striking workers at Amplats, Evans Ramokga, promised more intense protest action later in the week and said Amplats workers intended to combine forces with Lonmin workers at Marikana.
"We want to assure you that by Monday next week there will be no mining operation in Rustenburg," he said.
There was a tense stand-off in the morning when thousands of mineworkers marched on the premises of Amplats's smelters, and demanded that all operations be halted within 30 minutes.
Several police vehicles and a water cannon blocked the entrance to the smelters. Mine security guards, wielding rifles, stood inside the gates.
The crowd became agitated when non-striking mineworkers emerged to observe the commotion at the gate.
Earlier, Amplats insisted it did not employ the protesters near its Thembelani mine in Rustenburg.
'Sweating for Anglo Platinum'
"The people who are chanting around the mines are from neighbouring communities and we cannot identify who they are," said Amplats spokesperson Mpumi Sithole.
In response, the protesters produced Amplats identification cars and said they were employed at different mine shafts in Rustenburg.
"If it were not for this industrial action, most of us would be deep inside shafts, sweating for Anglo Platinum. Do not be tricked by them," said protester Themba Ngaba.
"I am a rock driller for them. Among other things, workers are angered by the sub-standard mageu [fermented mealie-meal energy drink] provided by the company," he said.
Ngaba said he had worked for Amplats for seven years.
Also on Wednesday, Lonmin said it had an average 1.8% attendance across its shafts, equating to only about 500 workers reporting for duty. Talks aimed at normalising the situation there and restarting production have made no progress, sources involved in the process said, and there is no prospect that the majority of workers will heed calls to return. On Tuesday striking workers intimidated bus drivers supposed to ferry workers to their shafts and threatened violence against anyone who tries to report for work.
But some union representatives at Lonmin's mines said their members wanted to work and did not pitch up only for fear of their lives. That was echoed by Amplats chairperson Cynthia Carroll in a statement on the suspension decision.
"Our people want to work and it is unacceptable that they are not able to go to work safely and instead are facing considerable intimidation. We are in touch with the authorities at the highest level to identify how we can work together with our tripartite partners – government and the recognised labour unions – to achieve a swift and peaceful resolution to these illegal actions."
At Gold Fields KDC West mine, near Carletonville, workers clashed with security on Wednesday.
In the late morning, teargas was used to disperse strikers after they tried to prevent a goods train from delivering material to the KDC West shaft.
Approximately 8 000 workers have downed tools and are demanding their wages be increased to R12 500.
"We are working for mahala," Siyabonga Dlamini, a worker at Goldfields KDC since 2008, told the Mail & Guardian. "I earn R4 800 and then R4 400 after deductions. I can't survive on this – it's nonsense."
The majority of workers claimed to be National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) representatives but said the union's representatives at the mine no longer spoke for them.
"Phansi NUM! Phansi," workers cried as they toyi-toyed on the mine's sports grounds.
Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema visited KDC on Tuesday and called for NUM's national leadership to be dissolved as they no longer cared for mineworkers' needs.
At about 2pm, workers marched on the mine's management, occupying the lawns outside their offices. A brief but tense standoff ensued as mine security and police, who arrived on the scene shortly after the mid-morning skirmish, prevented worker representatives from entering the offices.
Mine management agreed to meet with a 10-worker delegation, while workers demanded management address everyone outside.
"Come outside and talk to us. Don't stay in their like cowards otherwise we will leave," a miner said.
After a minor skirmish, when workers pushed through the hazard tape barriers towards management offices, they retreated to the KDC sports fields.
"We will be here again tomorrow, this is not ending. The bosses must listen otherwise they won't work at this mine," Peter Dlanga told the M&G. – additional reporting by Sapa