Striking South African miners open talks with platinum firms

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 24, 2014 2:27 AM

By Ed Stoddard

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa's main platinum union started government-brokered talks with the world's top three platinum companies on Friday to end a wage strike that risked turning violent.

As many as 100,000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) walked out at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin on Thursday, hitting more than half of world platinum production.

Implats said on Friday striking workers were blocking miners who wanted to report for work at its operations near Rustenburg, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

"Never a good situation as it raises tension and the risk for potential violence," Implats spokesman Johan Theron said.

However, in Johannesburg AMCU leaders started talks at 0200 EST (0700 GMT) with the three firms under the auspices of South Africa's main commercial arbitration body, labor ministry spokesman Musi Zondi said.

"Obviously it would be good if something positive were to come out of it," he said.

The meeting is the first time the big three platinum producers have negotiated with the union under one roof.

The government has stepped in to mediate the dispute, fearful of damage to an already struggling economy and the political standing of President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which faces an election in just over three months.

Despite its efforts, the government has been unable to soothe nearly two years of tensions in the platinum belt, where miners are angry about their lack of economic progress two decades after the end of apartheid.

The AMCU-affiliated workers say they will not call off the strike until their demand for a 12,500 rand ($1,100) a month minimum basic wage are met. Basic wages for miners are currently about 5,000 rand.

"There is nothing that can change our demands," prominent AMCU member Evans Ramokga told Reuters.

($1 = 10.9809 South African rand)

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg; Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Ed Cropley)