Union leaders representing as many as 100,000 miners who walked
off work on Thursday sat down with officials of the three firms that
produce more than half the world's platinum, a metal used in
catalytic converters in cars.
The three companies — Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala
Platinum and Lonmin — say union demands to more than double the
miners' basic pay are "unaffordable and unrealistic."
The strike and fears of unrest hit the rand, pushing it through the
psychologically key 11.0 to the dollar to levels last seen five
years ago. Violence in the platinum sector could trigger a heavier
sell-off in the currency.
The companies' talks with the hardline Association of Mineworkers
and Construction Union (AMCU) were held under the auspices of South
Africa's main commercial arbitration body, labor ministry spokesman
Musi Zondi said.
"Obviously it would be good if something positive were to come out
of it," he said.
The government stepped in to mediate the dispute and avoid damage to
an already struggling economy and to the political standing of
President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC),
which faces general elections in three months.
Police reported several violent incidents, including the torching of
a Chinese furniture shop in Marikana, a mining town near Rustenburg,
and the barricading of roads with burning tires, stones and rubble.
No arrests had been made.
PLATINIUM BELT TENSION
Police armored vehicles roamed the platinum belt, 120 km (70 miles)
northwest of Johannesburg, mindful of the bloodshed and violence of
the last two years, especially at Marikana, where 34 miners were
shot dead by police 18 months ago.
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Security guards at an Amplats' mine near Rustenburg told Reuters not
to drive towards the mine gates as strikers were blocking anyone
from crossing their picket line.
"They will damage your car if you drive further," one said.
Implats said strikers were blocking miners who wanted to report for
work at its operations.
"Never a good situation as it raises tension and the risk for
potential violence," Implats spokesman Johan Theron said.
Despite its efforts, the government has been unable to soothe nearly
two years of tensions in the platinum belt, where miners are angry
about their lack of economic progress two decades after the end of
The AMCU-affiliated workers say they will not call off the strike
until their demand for a 12,500 rand ($1,100) a month minimum basic
wage are met. Basic wages for miners are currently about 5,000 rand.
"There is nothing that can change our demands," prominent AMCU
member Evans Ramokga told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg;
Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; editing by Ed Cropley and Tom Heneghan)
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