CARLTONVILLE, South Africa (Reuters) - Anglo American Platinum warned on Tuesday that security had worsened at its strike-hit South African mines as several thousand gold miners rallied over pay in the dispute-plagued industry.
As many as 75,000 miners, or 15 percent of the South African mining sector’s total workforce, are on wildcat strikes, threatening already shaky growth of Africa’s biggest economy.
The ruling African National Congress and President Jacob Zuma have drawn criticism for their handling of the mines unrest, with political opponents and analysts saying they have not responded quickly enough to address workers’ grievances.
“The security situation in the Rustenburg area worsened during yesterday evening,” Anglo American Platinum said in a statement, referring to its mines in the country’s “platinum belt” about 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Amplats, the world’s top platinum producer, said it had advised workers not to come to work on Tuesday, but expected to resume operations on Wednesday.
Its four Rustenburg mines have been shut for more than two weeks, costing it more than 20,000 ounces in lost output.
The company also said workers at a mine northwest of Rustenburg on Tuesday refused to go underground. It said it had obtained a court order against those miners and told them to return to work.
Seven weeks of labor unrest has left more than 40 people dead, raised questions about the government’s inability to address widening inequality and rattled overseas investors.
Wildcat strikes, which erupted at Lonmin’s Rustenburg operations, have now spread across the mining industry.
Two thousand striking miners evicted from company housing at a Gold Fields mine occupied a nearby hill on Tuesday.
A similar stand-off with police at Lonmin’s platinum mine in August led to the shooting of 34 miners in South Africa’s bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The protesting workers at Gold Fields’ KDC West mine, 50 km (30 miles) west of Johannesburg, said they would not leave the rocky outcrop near the mine entrance until they received a pay increase to 12,500 rand ($1,500) a month.
As with the now-finished wildcat strike at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, many of the Gold Fields employees were armed with sticks, but had few belongings beyond the ragged clothes they were wearing.
Fifteen thousand KDC West gold miners downed tools on September 10, hitting production at the world’s fourth-biggest bullion producer. Gold Fields bosses have refused to negotiate with them.
On Tuesday, company security officers evicted thousands of strikers from company hostels, yet the miners - faced with sleeping rough on the hill - refused to back down.
“We want 12,500 (rand). We are not going back. We’ll stay here until the management comes here and talks to us,” 25-year-old miner Thabane Mohale told Reuters as he started to climb the hill, armed with a stick.
There was no sign of the police near the hill.
Gold Fields spokesman Sven Lunsche said about 5,500 workers were housed at KDC West but many had not left yet and the company was seeking a court order to complete the evictions.
“Law and order was breaking down in the hostels,” Lunsche said. “They were used as a base to plan and coordinate unlawful and life-threatening activities in support of the illegal strike.”
Separately, Gold Fields said it had resolved a two-year-old dispute with union leaders over the future of its South Deep mine. The agreement, which will secure existing jobs and create 400 new ones, will cost the company 170 million rand ($20 million).
In the diamond industry, producer Petra Diamonds said a “limited number” of workers at its Kimberley Underground mine were on strike, although production had not been affected.
($1 = 8.3194 South African rand)
Writing by Ed Cropley and David Dolan; editing by Pascal Fletcher and Jason Neely