Police disperse protesters at South Africa Harmony Gold mine

JOHANNESBURG Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:24am EST

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African police firing rubber bullets dispersed protesting workers at a mine run by Harmony Gold west of Johannesburg on Thursday, in the latest flare-up of labor unrest in the troubled mining sector.

Company spokeswoman Henrika Basterfield said the protest broke out at Harmony's Kusasalethu mine after close to 600 employees who took part in an illegal strike on December 15 were suspended.

"Mine security and police are on the scene to control the crowd," she said, adding that five people were injured.

A wave of wildcat strikes swept South Africa's gold and platinum mining industries this year. Over 50 people were killed in this labor violence which hit South Africa's reputation as an investment destination and led to credit downgrades.

The last outbreak of mines violence occurred about four weeks ago at Kusasalethu when two miners were killed in clashes between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the smaller Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

Their turf war for members has been at the root of much of the conflict at the mineshafts this year, although miners have also complained of insufficient wages and poor conditions.

Thursday's protest occurred as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) wound up a national leadership conference that backed the idea of a windfall tax on the profits of mining companies which are already struggling with the worker unrest and mounting costs.

Harmony said the Kusasalethu mine near Carletonville, about 65 kms (40 miles) west of Johannesburg, was closing on Thursday for the Christmas holidays, a day earlier than scheduled.

The ANC conference re-elected President Jacob Zuma as its leader and appointed as his deputy millionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, a former mineworkers' leader who is now South Africa's second richest black business executive.

The party hopes that bringing in a high-profile figure like Ramaphosa into the top party leadership can help to both reassure investors, and also reach out to unions which form part of the ruling ANC-led alliance.

(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

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