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South African Government Takes Steps To Crack Down On Labor Unrest

The South African government has announced steps designed to put down the ongoing mining unrest that has crippled production in the mineral-rich nation.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe warned that his government would crack down “very swiftly” on anyone involved in an illegal gathering or carrying weapons, but said the new measures did not amount to a state of emergency.

The move came as striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine rejected a pay offer from the management and some unions threatened a general strike.

The mining unrest has been marked by violent clashes, including the shooting dead of 34 striking miners by police at Marikana in August. The unrest has since spread to other gold and platinum mines throughout the country.

Production has been severely hit with several mines closed. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Friday warned that the continuing unrest could hurt economic growth, jobs and investor confidence in Africa’s biggest economy.

The new measures were announced following a meeting of ministers representing the security cluster in President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa explained the decision, stressing that the government had “an obligation to ensure that people… are safe in South Africa”.

The news will likely come as soothing to international investors worried about the country’s stability, but isn’t likely to play over well with disgruntled miners who feel they have nothing to show for doing the lion’s share of the dangerous mine work.

They accuse President Jacob Zuma’s government of going easy on their employers because some of its top officials are mine bosses as well.

Protest leaders have threatened to launch a general strike if their demands are not met. They are supported by the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is allied to the ANC-led government, earlier told the BBC that it was concerned about the high level of violence and job losses in the mining sector.

In response to the threat of a general strike, the government placed its military on high alert, marking the first time it has done since democracy came to the country in 1994 following the fall of apartheid.

The strike began at the Marikana mine in August and 10 people, including two police officers, were killed as the dispute turned violent days before the police opened fire.

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