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Production Halted at Most S. African Mines as Wage Talks Continue

The mining industry and the South African government are grappling with a way to bring an end to the strikes and conflict that is surrounding operation of the crucial industry, but workers are inspired to keep fighting until they get the raise in wages they are seeking.

While most of the mines have ceased production, a few of them have vowed to reopen this week—though the striking miners dismiss that possibility. The tensions around the mines have only increased since police opened fire on striking miners at the Lonmin mine in Marakana last month, killing 34 people in a massacre whose repercussions were felt around the world.

Police stepped in today and stopped former ANC youth leader Julius Malema from addressing the striking workers.

“There is no need to resort to violence. I believe we must not encourage that,” President Jacob Zuma told a conference of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a partner with the African National Congress (ANC) in the governing alliance.

Malema, an archenemy of Zuma, has urged strikers to make mines “ungovernable.”

Police, some armed, surrounded Malema as he arrived in Marikana. As officers led him away, some of the miners gathered at a soccer pitch in the town to hear him threw stones at a police car.

The strife has cost the industry 4.5 billion rand ($548 million) in lost output,  Zuma said.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world’s No. 1 platinum producer, said that work at its Rustenburg mines would resume on Tuesday. But the miners scoff at that claim.

“For us, the reality is that the general strike is on,” Mametlwe Sebei, a Rustenburg community leader and Marxist politician, told Reuters. “We are going to be demonstrating in defiance. We will not be intimidated.”

Sebei claimed Amplats management was “whistling in the dark” if it believed the mines would reopen on Tuesday.

“They can deploy the army, they can be shooting people, shooting old men in their shacks, tear gassing young kids … but let us be clear, there will be repercussions,” he said.

Unrest among the South Africa mines is being closely watched by the rest of the world since South Africa is home to 80 percent of the known reserves of platinum—whose price has jumped nearly 20 percent since the Lonmin massacre. The mining industry accounts for 6 percent of South Africa’s economy, which is the largest economy on the Africa continent.

With the government fearing that the mining instability will begin to drag down the entire economy, police have continued to be aggressive in dealing with the job action. On Saturday, police raided a Lonmin hostel, seizing spears, machetes and other weapons from strikers. They also used rubber bullets this time and tear gas to disperse groups of protesters.

The lack of production at the mines is causing the company to continually lower its projections for how much would be produced this year.

The company is engaging in wage talks with the union membership, with workers dismissing an initial Lonmin offer as way below the 12,500 rand ($1,500) a month sought by workers. Lonmin, which is offering increases of between 9 and 21 percent, said 12,500 rand would put thousands of jobs at risk and challenge the viability of the business.




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