* Massive platinum strike starts
* Half of world platinum production hit
* Police out in force near Lonmin's Marikana mine
* Court halts threatened stoppage in gold sector
By Ed Stoddard
RUSTENBURG, South Africa, Jan 23 South Africa's
hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union
(AMCU) began a strike over pay in the platinum sector on
Thursday, bringing mines that produce half the world's platinum
to a standstill.
Members of AMCU, the platinum sector's main union, downed
tools at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum
and Lonmin, the top three producers of the
metal used in emissions-capping catalytic converters in cars.
"The strike has started at all operations," AMCU spokesman
Jimmy Gama said.
The union, whose emergence two years ago has thrown South
Africa's mining labour relations into turmoil, has as many as
100,000 members on the platinum belt, 120 km (70 miles)
northwest of Johannesburg.
It was unclear if they had all heeded the call to strike.
It is also hard to estimate the duration of the stoppage
amid recent signs of divisions in AMCU's ranks.
Dissidents said this week they planned to form a rival
union, accusing AMCU's leaders, especially president Joseph
Mathunjwa, of recklessly pursuing a damaging strike they say
many miners do not want and cannot afford.
But AMCU activists in the nearby city of Rustenburg on
Wednesday night said the workers remained committed to a
stoppage under the battle cry of a "living wage".
AMCU is seeking a more than doubling of the basic
entry-level wage from Amplats and Lonmin and smaller but still
steep hikes from Implats. The companies are offering increases
of 7.5-8.5 percent, well above the 5.4 percent inflation rate.
The firms were battered by wildcat strikes in 2012 rooted in
a turf war between AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers
(NUM) in which dozens of people were killed. They say they
cannot big pay hikes.
Mindful of the bloodshed and violence of the last two years,
police deployed in force, especially near Lonmin's Marikana mine
where 34 striking miners were shot dead by police in August
AMCU had also planned to strike at several gold mines on
Thursday but a court ruled the action be suspended pending a
review of its legality.