South African Strikes Crippling Country, Creating Shortages

A strike that began in the platinum and gold mines of South Africa has spread across the economy to other South African industries, such as the country’s 28,000 truck drivers, crippling the nation and leading to massive food and fuel shortages.

As the tensions continue, there were 2 more murders over the weekend in Marikana, the mining town where 34 strikers were gunned down by police in August in the shocking incident that started all this unrest.

The rail and port workers are threatening to join the truckers this week, meaning the disruption to the fuel and food deliveries across the nation will become even more severe. The shortages have left gas stations without gas, bank machines without cash and supermarkets running out of food.

The unrest has rocked the nation’s economy and resulted in the serious decline of the rand, the South African currency. South Africa is the world’s biggest platinum producer and the fifth-biggest gold producer.

The responses by the mining companies have been split. The Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mine, the world’s biggest platinum producer, on Friday announced the firing of 12,000 of its 28,000 striking miners, catching them by surprise but prompting threats of more violence. Each miner supports on average about eight to 10 people, often living in abject poverty, according to industry data, so the firings could cut off income to more than 100,000 people.

“It just isn’t fair. The company pays me little and I have worked here for years,” a fired miner told Reuters. Others said they would not give up the fight for higher wages, even if it meant committing more violence. Those who haven’t been fired would not return to work, according to strike leaders, ensuring that Amplats would not be able to extract any ore.

“There will be no operations that will operate. An ordinary worker is prepared to die for his own rights,” one of the strike leaders, Evans Ramokga, told Reuters.

Ramokga also said there had been secret talks to broker a settlement, but Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said she would not “qualify that with a comment,” adding “there has been no progress.”

The ANC Youth League said it was outraged by the dismissals and predicted they would heighten tensions in the country.

“Amplats is a disgrace and a disappointment to the country at large, a representation of white monopoly capital, out of touch and uncaring of the plight of the poor,” the Youth League said in a statement.

The Youth League has been challenging the leadership of South African President Jacob Zuma, leading to internal conflicts in the ANC that observers say has led to significant distraction for Zuma and moved him away from seeking a solution to the growing labor crisis.

While Amplats fired 12,000, the Lonmin mine caved in to the strikers last month and gave them a 22 per cent wage hike after a six-week strike. The increase has sparked similar demands by many other workers in the mines and elsewhere. The truckers are seeking a 12 per cent wage increase for each of the next two years, more than double the inflation rate.

Many trucks have been torched by truckers in their two-week strike and dozens of drivers have been injured, often hit with stones or pulled from their vehicles.
About 60 people have died in strike-related violence in the mining sector this year. Several of the latest victims were shop stewards of the National Union of Mineworkers, closely affiliated with the ANC, which is accused by some mineworkers of being too moderate.
Some of the mines have already lost $70-million to $80-million in revenue as a result of the strikes. The country’s debt has been downgraded by ratings agencies, and a full percentage point could be shaved off its growth rate this year.
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