Residents blocked roads and South African police fired rubber bullets at the world’s top platinum firm Anglo American yesterday, the same day miners there faced a deadline to return to work.
The unrest at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in Rustenburg, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, seemed to be escalating just as a deadly six-week strike at a nearby platinum mine run by Lonmin wound down.
Black smoke billowed in the Sondela informal settlement next to a shaft, as miners and residents blocked roads with rocks and burning tires to keep the police out.
“They shot at us with rubber bullets, and afterwards they poured teargas, that’s why we put the rocks,” said resident Mable Makgetla, 30, whose husband works for a mining contractor.
Police arrested 22 people in the area on Wednesday but did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the fresh unrest.
“Teachers and children were inside class when they (police) shot,” said striking Amplats miner Daniel Khasiphe, 38, of a primary school that was closed after the police operation.
The unrest had spread to Amplats from nearby platinum giant Lonmin, where workers returned to work yesterday after a deal was brokered to end a crippling strike in which 46 people died, 34 of whom were gunned down by police.
The Lonmin workers’ wage demands and threats of deeper strike action have been taken up by other gold and platinum miners, raising fears of a major economic fall-out as the rising tensions forced several shaft closures over safety fears.
“No one is willing to go back, absolutely no-one,” workers representative Gaddhafi Mdoda said, adding that the area was relatively calm aside for at one shaft.
The Lonmin deal has raised alarms of a dangerous precedent for the hammering out of worker wage demands, with the deal secured after workers bypassed recognized union structures and after shocking bloodshed.
“It is giving us an advantage just because ... Amplats can pay more than that,” Mdoda said.
Workers will not go below demands for 12,500 rands (1,200 euros, $1,500), the same amount Lonmin staff had been pushing for, he said. Though Lonmin’s deal fell slightly short of that figure, the mine was a hive of activity yesterday with packed buses ferrying miners to work.
Workers chatted loudly as the queue shuffled to the turnstile entrance for the 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) shift.
Company spokeswoman Sue Vey said attendance had hit 77 percent after turnout had plunged to below one percent during the strike, which dated to August 10, at the world’s number three platinum producer.