The strikes have threatened to bring the South African economy to its knees, since it is so dependent on the mining industry for economic growth.
“This was a final offer from the companies. They said take it or leave it,” National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told Reuters. “Now that it has been rejected our options have been exhausted.”
The number of workers in South Africa who have gone on strike in South Africa since August has hit 100,000, including about 75,000 miners. In the gold mines, an estimated 48,000 workers have gone on strike at the top two companies, AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields.
The 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.
The rail and port workers last week threatened to join the truckers, meaning the disruption to the fuel and food deliveries across the nation could 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, last 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.
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.
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.
Production of platinum group metals fell 1.9 percent in August compared to the same month last year, data showed on Thursday, a sign the unrest was taking its toll on Africa’s biggest economy.
Gold output still rose 0.4 percent in August as the strikes only spread to bullion the following month.