* Kumba Iron Ore says 300 employees involved, limited effect
* Gold producer Harmony reports illegal strike at mine
* Spread of labour unrest ups pressure on Zuma government
* Action rattles investors in Africa's largest economy
By Ed Stoddard and Agnieszka Flak
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 3 A series of wildcat miners'
strikes spread to South Africa's iron ore sector on Wednesday
and hit another gold firm in an escalation of the labour unrest
that is testing President Jacob Zuma's leadership.
The country's mining industry body has agreed to re-open
wage talks in the coal and gold mining sectors, the National
Union of Mineworkers said, a sign that more companies may be
forced to make costly concessions to end the crippling strikes.
The industrial action at Kumba Iron Ore, a unit of
global miner Anglo American and among the world's top 10
producers, further dented investor confidence in the continent's
Workers at the Kusasalethu gold mine near Johannesburg,
operated by South Africa's No. 3 bullion producer Harmony Gold
, also downed tools in what management called an
"unlawful" action launched outside the normal channels.
Zuma is under fire for failing to address and contain the
rolling workers' protests demanding higher wages, which in
mid-August led to the killing by police of 34 strikers at the
Marikana platinum mine run by Lonmin .
The so-called "Marikana massacre" jogged painful memories of
apartheid-era killings by the security forces and has kindled
heated debate over glaring wealth inequalities persisting in
South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994.
"President Zuma can see all of this. He is ignoring it as
our president. Does he want us to die like the people in
Marikana before he can act?" asked Sandile Diko, a miner at Gold
Fields KDC West mine, west of Johannesburg, where
15,000 workers downed tools last month.
After seven weeks of labour unrest, as many as 75,000
miners, or 15 percent of the mining sector workforce, are
already out on strike, while a national truckers' stoppage is
squeezing fuel suppliers. If it drags on, some petrol stations
could run dry, and some banks' ATMs could run out of cash.
The rand fell 1 percent against the dollar on
Wednesday, partly due to the escalation of the mines conflict.
CHALLENGE TO ZUMA
Kumba said the wildcat strike at its giant Sishen Mine in
the Northern Cape involved only 300 employees and one area in
the open cast mine, leaving most of the facility unaffected.
Kumba's share price closed down nearly 5 percent, while
shares of Harmony Gold slid 2.8 percent in Johannesburg.
The recent weeks of labour strife, in which around 50 people
have been killed, have stirred up criticism of the ruling
African National Congress and the presidency of Zuma, who faces
a challenge from ANC rivals ahead of a party leadership
conference in December.
Zuma is nevertheless expected to be re-elected head of the
ANC in the vote - teeing him up to win a second five-year term
as South African president in 2014 - though he could face a
serious challenge from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
In another illegal strike over wages by contractors at
mining company Petmin, a security guard was hacked to
death this week by knife-wielding assailants at the Somkhele
mine in KwaZulu-Natal, local media quoted police as saying.
There are fears the strike "contagion" could spread to the
coal mining sector and so threaten supplies to power utility
Eskom, which is struggling to prevent a repeat of a 2008 crisis
when the power grid nearly collapsed amid rolling blackouts.
Some 85 percent of the country's electricity is generated by
"NO TURNING BACK"
The NUM said South Africa's Chamber of Mines had agreed to
dicsuss wage agreements which were settled last year in the coal
and gold sectors and were due to run until next year. Issues
included increases for entry level workers, pay adjustments for
rock drill operators and a "social labour" package, it said.
Asked to comment, Elize Strydom, a chamber official, said:
"We have agreed to look at those issues and treat it as a matter
of great urgency and in fact we are meeting again on Tuesday."
Kumba had been thought safe from the strikes because in
December rank-and-file employees there who had worked for at
least five years were given a lump sum of about 345,000 rand
($41,200) each after taxes as part of a share scheme.
This represented a fortune to workers earning as little as
7,000 rand a month. It was not immediately clear if any of the
strikers were among the 6,200 who had benefited from the plan.
Kumba produced 41.3 million tonnes of ore in 2011.
World No. 1 platinum producer Anglo American Platinum
is grappling to resolve a strike at its Rustenburg
operations in the country's "platinum belt" about 120 km (75
miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Worker attendance at Amplats' Rustenburg mines has fallen to
below 20 percent. Some 21,000 Amplats workers are striking.
Bosses at the world's fourth-biggest bullion producer, Gold
Fields, where a three-week-old stoppage at the KDC West mine has
hit production, have refused to negotiate with strikers over
their wage demands.
"All we want is money," one of the striking miners, Sibusiso
Ntjima, told Reuters. "We want it, and no turning back."
The spreading unrest has raised fears of a repeat of the
Marikana violence and deaths, South Africa's bloodiest security
incident since the end of apartheid.
An official enquiry into the killings began this week but
adjourned its hearings on Wednesday until Oct. 22 to give
lawyers more time to prepare and collect forensic and witness
reports and post mortem information on the victims.