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05 Feb 2014 08:27
Amcu and the platinum mining firms have returned to the negotiating table. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
Wage talks between South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the world's top three platinum producers resumed on Tuesday to try to end a nearly two-week strike that has seen outbreaks of violence and is costing the country an estimated $36-million (R400-million) a day.
Amcu members walked out of Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum and Lonmin platinum mines in January, demanding that monthly wages be more than doubled.
Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse about 3 000 striking miners at an Amplats shaft on Tuesday, and have been involved in several clashes since the strike started.
The police have been patrolling the platinum belt for weeks, wary of a repeat of the bloodshed of the past two years that has killed dozens of miners. The most notable incident was at Marikana 18 months ago, when police shot 34 dead and several policemen were killed.
The government has been unable to soothe tensions in the mining area, 120km north-west of Johannesburg, where miners are angry about their lack of economic progress two decades after the end of apartheid.
This strike has halted production on about 40% of global platinum supply.
Cost to country
"The strikes are currently costing the industry about R197-million per day," said Roger Baxter, chief operations officer at South Africa's Chamber of Mines, the main industry body.
"We estimate that the daily cost to the country is closer to R400-million a day," he said.
Government mediators said on Sunday that they had made a proposal to end the strike but did not give details.
"They [the miners and the companies] will meet for three days," said a spokesperson for the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration as talks began again in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith said on Monday that there might be progress by the end of this week as people "don't want this to be a protracted strike".
The government has stepped in to mediate to avoid damage to an already struggling economy and to the political standing of President Jacob Zuma and the ANC, which faces general elections in about three month's time.
The producers, squeezed by soaring costs and weaker platinum prices, say the wage demands are unaffordable and unrealistic.
Wildcat strikes in 2012 also dented profits and output.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa walked out at Amplats refineries and smelters on Monday, but operations have not been affected, the company said.
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