S.Africa’s Amplats fires 12,000 strikers, union leader shot
JOHANNESBURG, (Reuters) - South Africa’s Amplats fired 12,000 wildcat strikers yesterday, a high-stakes attempt by the world’s biggest platinum producer to push back at a wave of illegal stoppages sweeping through the country’s mining sector and beyond.
Later on, a trade union leader was shot dead near a mine run by platinum producer Lonmin in a potentially explosive escalation of the two-month-old violent labour unrest that took the death toll to 49.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the NUM branch leader had been killed “execution style” in the evening but gave no further details.
A six-week stoppage at Lonmin in August and September erupted out of a turf war between the NUM and the more militant Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which accuses the NUM of acting for its government allies rather than its members.
The hefty hikes won by workers from that saga has been a red rag to others while anger has been stoked by the killing of 34 miners in a hail of police bullets outside Lonmin’s Marikana mine in an incident that evoked apartheid-era shootings.
The sackings at Amplats (Anglo American Platinum) yesterday triggered a sharp fall in South Africa’s rand as investors dumped the country’s assets.
The rand fell as much as 4 percent to 3-1/2 year lows after Johannesburg markets closed, adding to the mounting toll inflicted on Africa’s biggest economy.
Strikes have spread beyond the mining sector, with Shell saying on Friday it would not be able to honour contracts to deliver fuel near Johannesburg because of a trucking strike.
The unrest is causing political trouble for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress (ANC), the veteran liberation movement with long-standing ties to labour unions.
“You fire 12,000 people, and it’s like ‘Oh my god, what happens now?’“ one Johannesburg-based currency strategist said.
When rival Impala Platinum fired 17,000 workers on an illegal strike rooted in the NUM/AMCU struggle, it led to a violent six week stoppage in which the company lost 80,000 ounces in output and platinum prices jumped 21 percent.
The wage deal that followed the killings at the Marikana mine in August triggered copycat demands in gold and iron ore.
“Amplats had been giving signals that it was going to hold the line after Lonmin had folded – but it’s a huge gamble,” said Nic Borain, an independent political analyst.
“Someone had to take it on the chin or this would have kept on unravelling and spread through the economy. It’s difficult to know whether this causes the unrest to spread or whether it takes some of the sting out of it. It could go either way.”