| JOHANNESBURG, June 28
JOHANNESBURG, June 28 A South African union gave
Glencore Xstrata a seven-day ultimatum on Friday to
rehire more than 1,000 workers fired at chrome mines for wildcat
protests or face unspecified action.
The protests, launched in solidarity with a worker who said
he was assaulted by a supervisor in an incident which has taken
on racial overtones, are part of a wave of labour unrest that
has shaken the mining sector in the world's top platinum
"If management fails to respond to this memorandum within
the timeframe prescribed, we reserve our right to pursue any
other avenues permissible in terms of the laws," the Association
of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said.
This could include further strike action at other Glencore
Xstrata operations in South Africa, which include coal mines.
The memorandum was presented to a Glencore executive near
the company's Johannesburg office by the AMCU's charismatic
leader Joseph Mathunjwa, who portrays himself as a Christian
soldier fighting for South Africa's downtrodden miners.
About 150 of the fired mineworkers, clad in green AMCU
shirts, chanted and danced in the office suburb of Melrose Arch
as police looked on. The peaceful demonstration was the AMCU's
first in Johannesburg.
Glencore sacked the workers early in June from mines near
Steelpoort, northeast of Johannesburg in Limpopo province. A
company spokesman said operations were running at minimal
capacity while replacement workers are rehired.
Chromium is used to produce ferrochrome, a key ingredient in
making stainless steel.
Mathunjwa said the incident with the supervisor and the
subsequent dismissals smacked of racism, which he said was
entrenched in the company's culture.
"Glencore Xstrata is still practising racism ... the central
management office is a white-only office. The only black workers
found there are only cleaners and tea ladies," he thundered into
One protester waved a sign which read "Glencore Xstrata Stop
Calling Black Workers Kaffir," a term offensive to black South
A spokesman for Glencore said the company would investigate
the allegations of racism.
The issue of race has arisen as South Africa's first black
president Nelson Mandela, widely admired as a symbol of
resistance to injustice and of racial reconciliation, is in a
critical condition in hospital.
Black mineworkers have seen little improvement in their
living conditions in the two decades since apartheid ended.
The AMCU has emerged as the dominant union on South Africa's
platinum belt after poaching tens of thousands of workers last
year in a vicious turf war with the National Union of
Mineworkers, a key ally of the ruling ANC.
Labour unrest in South Africa's mines last year killed more
than 50 people, cost producers billions in lost output and led
to credit downgrades for Africa's biggest economy.
Wage negotiations due to start next month across the mining
industry are expected to be among the toughest ever, as rising
working militancy coincides with falling commodity prices and
razor-thin company margins.