Amplats to resume operations as police get tough on miners

Amplats, the world's top producer of the precious metal, suspended some of its operations this week after machete-wielding strikers marched on shafts near Rustenburg, 100km northwest of Johannesburg.

"The situation in Rustenburg remains calm and our current intention is to resume operations on Tuesday morning which will provide time for the government to implement further security measures," the company said in a statement on Sunday.

Following a government promise to get tough on miners, police raided a Lonmin Plc hostel early on Saturday and seized spears, machetes and other weapons from strikers.

President Jacob Zuma's government, after weeks of drawing accusations of responding too slowly, said on Friday it would clamp down on "illegal gatherings" and go after armed miners.

The army has also been asked to help the police.

"The army has been requested to render support to an operation that is being conducted by the South African Police Service, not in the riot control, but for a specific operation," defence ministry official Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said on Saturday.

Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse miners following the Saturday raid.

Poisoned relations
In Marikana, near Rustenburg, police last month shot 34 striking miners dead in a single day, the bloodiest police action in South Africa since the end of apartheid. A total of 45 people were killed in the unrest.

Sparked by the strike at a Lonmin mine in Marikana, the crisis has poisoned industrial relations in Africa's largest economy and choked platinum output. South Africa accounts for about 80% of the world's platinum production.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told Reuters in an interview on Sunday there was no need yet to revise the outlook for fiscal performance in the 2012 budget plan, even if revenue had been lost from the unrest.

Lonmin, due to resume talks on Monday with strikers who rejected a pay rise offer last week, on Sunday insisted it could not meet the workers' demands but promised a new approach in labour relations.

Acting chief executive Simon Scott said in an opinion piece published in the Sunday Times newspaper that the deaths of protesters had been a "wake-up call" for the company and it would improve discussions with strikers.

"For Lonmin, the starting point is to acknowledge that our company must go through a process of self-reflection," Scott said.

"What I can promise is that we are committed to playing our part. We have had our wake-up call, as has the rest of South Africa."

Loss of business
On Friday, workers at the mine dismissed the company's offer as way below the R12 500 a month sought by members of the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is challenging the influence of the more established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Scott, who has been acting chief executive while Ian Farmer has been on sick leave since last month, reiterated the company's position that the R12 500 would put thousands of jobs at risk and challenge the viability of the business.

It would cost the company R2.3-billion, he said.

Lonmin is offering increases of between 9% and 21%. In a statement on Sunday it denied a report by NUM that it had improved its key offer to rock drill operators, who are at the centre of the unrest.

The strikes have been seized on by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema who urged strikers to make mines "ungovernable".

South Africa's elite police unit, the Hawks, said on Sunday it was investigating a case against Malema, opened by trade union Solidarity earlier this month, of incitement of violence and intimidation.

"That case has been referred to us and we are currently investigating," Hawks spokesperson MacIntosh Polela said.

"We are not going to narrow it to Marikana. We are just going to look for evidence of this incitement, aspects of it are going definitely to be Marikana." – Reuters

Civil unrest
On Sunday, the presidency said law enforcement measures undertaken in Marikana were aimed at ending violence and intimidation, and not at undermining civil liberties.

"Government action in Marikana is directed at ensuring that citizens exercise their rights peacefully and within the ambit of the law, as would be required in any democratic country in the world," Zuma said in a statement.

"Government cannot allow a situation where people march in the streets carrying dangerous weapons."

The government would never take away the constitutional rights of South Africans, but it could not allow people to incite violence or intimidate others, he said.

Workers had the right to engage their employers on wages and working conditions, and the state was not taking sides in the dispute.

It was only intervening to end the violence and intimidation.

Living conditions for workers on the platinum belt remained unacceptable, Zuma said.

The poor and working class remained the government's priority.

"We urge the mining sector to play their own part by immediately ensuring compliance with the Mining Charter, which includes the provision of single occupant hostels and family units," he said.

There were still hostels where 166 people had to share four toilets.

"Mining companies and the trade unions must urgently discuss and resolve the issues," he said.

Turbulent times
Zuma extended his condolences to the family of National Union of Mineworkers shop steward Dumisani Mthinti.

Mthinti, who was found hacked to death in Marikana last week, was the 45th person to be killed in violence related to the Lonmin mine strike.

Gauteng economic development minister Nkosiphendule Kolisile said on Sunday that he was concerned about the turbulence at mines in the province.

Some of the mines experiencing unrest were Gold Fields' Kloof and Driefontein mines on the West Rand, and Gold One International in Modder East, Ekhurhuleni.

"The department of economic development recognises the conditions of work in the mining sector as well as the persisting challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment in our province," he said.

He appealed to all stakeholders, particularly mining houses and workers' representatives, to reach a speedy resolution.

The department would continue to consult stakeholders and reaffirmed its commitment to inclusive economic growth and decent jobs. – Reuters, Sapa

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