JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A 49-year-old worker was shot dead at the weekend near Lonmin’s Marikana mine in South Africa, stirring worries of new labor tension in the troubled platinum mining belt that has been racked by a violent union dispute over the last year.
Police said on Tuesday the shooting took place on Sunday but could not immediately confirm whether it was related to the union turf war, in which more than 50 people have been killed.
That figure includes 34 striking miners shot dead by police last year at the Lonmin Marikana mine - the deadliest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994.
Lonmin said the victim was an employee who was believed to be a team leader for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
Police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said: “He was in his mine gear on his way to work.”
“This is an isolated incident which does not mean the situation is volatile in the platinum belt.”
But union leaders said labor violence had got out of hand in the area, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, which produces most of the world’s platinum.
“We have never seen such severity in the intimidation, threats and killings,” said Frans Baleni, the general secretary of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
AMCU has been eating away at the membership base of the established NUM since early 2012 to overtake it as the majority union at the world’s top three platinum producers.
The two feuding unions have blamed each other for ratcheting up the violence.
NUM’s troubles have also had political ramifications because the union is closely tied with the ruling African National Congress and has been a breeding ground for party leaders.
Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer, was forced to halt production for weeks last year due to the union fight. The National Treasury said labor strife has cut into mining production enough to slow economic growth.
Lonmin’s finances were left so battered that it had to tap shareholders for cash and it has been battling to return to full production ever since.
Lonmin’s shares were down 2.25 percent at 46.92 rand on the Johannesburg bourse by early afternoon, compared to a 1.76 percent drop in the JSE’s platinum index.
Additional reporting by Sherilee Lakmidas; Editing by Gareth Jones