By Sherilee Lakmidas
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - AngloGold Ashanti on Tuesday again suspended operations at its Mponeng mine in South Africa after a sit-in protest just two days after striking miners returned to work.
The disruption is the latest in a wave of often violent wildcat action to hit the mining sector in the world's top platinum producer. Most of the strikes are over but sporadic protests suggest the friction between miners and their bosses is far from over.
AngloGold spokesman Alan Fine said while the latest protest was resolved by Monday evening, the company decided not to send workers underground because it was not satisfied it could do so safely.
"We are concerned about the safety of people and underground assets. Operations have been suspended and management is considering its next steps," Fine said.
Striking miners just returned to duty at Mponeng, the world's deepest mine Mponeng at more than 4 km deep, and AngloGold's TauTona mine after operations were suspended at both last week.
All of South Africa's major gold producers have been hit by often violent illegal strikes at some or all of their operations in the last three months as labor discontent in the platinum mines spilled over into other sectors.
Gold Fields, the fourth largest bullion producer, said on Tuesday all its three South African operations were back at work but a smaller operator said it had been hit by a strike.
The major companies are now back at work, but junior miner Village Main Reef said employees at its Buffelsfontein Gold Mine had embarked on a wildcat strike as of the night shift on Monday.
The wave of strikes is the worst industrial unrest to rock South Africa's mining sector since the end of apartheid, although most of the roughly 80,000 workers who have downed tools in the last three months are now back underground.
But Anglo American Platinum, the world's top producer of the precious metal, is still struggling to get more than 30,000 workers back to work, with an illegal strike at its Rustenburg operations now in its eighth week.
More than 50 people have died - most of them shot dead by police - and the unrest is taking its toll on South Africa's reputation as an investment destination.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has said the strikes are projected to have cost South Africa about 12.5 billion rand ($1.44 billion) in lost export revenue in 2012.
(Editing by Ed Stoddard and James Jukwey)