By Sherilee Lakmidas
MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - South African police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday to disperse protesters near a mine run by the world's biggest platinum producer Anglo American Platinum, as unrest spread after strikers at rival Lonmin won big pay rises.
Within hours of Lonmin agreeing wage increases of up to 22 percent, workers at nearby mines called for similar raises, spelling more trouble after six weeks of industrial action that has claimed more than 40 lives and rocked Africa's largest economy.
"We want management to meet us as well now," an organizer for the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) at Impala Platinum, the second biggest platinum producer, told Reuters.
"We want 9,000 rand ($1,100) a month as a basic wage instead of the roughly 5,000 rand we are getting," said the organizer, who declined to be named fearing recriminations from the firm.
The death toll from the unrest rose to 46 when a woman died several days after being struck by a rubber bullet, a clergyman who has been counseling striking miners, told Reuters.
Jubilant workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, painted the wage deal as a victory for AMCU over the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), an ally of the ruling African National Congress.
President Jacob Zuma expressed relief at the pay deal after intense criticism from the opposition and media of the government's handling of the crisis - not least in the aftermath of the police killing of 34 Marikana miners on August 16.
The shootings, the bloodiest security incident in democratic South Africa's 18-year history, boosted an "Anyone but Zuma" campaign dividing the ANC, although he remains favorite to win an internal leadership election in December.
The violence rekindled memories of apartheid-era clashes when police representing white-minority rulers fired on masses of blacks seeking freedom. This time it was the ANC government's police, black and white, who shot the workers, all black.
REALITY OF EXTRA COSTS
Lonmin shares rose more than 9 percent on news of the pay deal, but gave up most of those gains during the day as the reality of the extra costs to a company struggling with a shaky balance sheet and unprofitable mine shafts sank in.
The wage deal could add 13 percent to the group's recurrent costs, plus an additional $10 million for a one-off back-to-work bonus, Nomura said in a note.
The end of the strike will give Lonmin a stronger hand in its refinancing talks with lenders, say analysts, who believe it can withstand higher wages despite its stretched balance sheet.
Acting Chief Executive Simon Scott said Lonmin would be able to manage the hit to its finances: "I am not sure we've bought peace and I'm not sure we've put a band-aid on here," he told Talk Radio 702 in South Africa. "I would like to think that what we've done is something more sustainable."
While Lonmin had relative peace, police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a crowd of men carrying traditional weapons, including spears, in a township at a nearby Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mine outside the city of Rustenburg.
A labor activist said workers who had stayed off the job at Amplats, which accounts for 40 percent of global supplies of the metal used for catalytic converters in cars and jewelry, were inspired by Lonmin and would press on with their demands.
Platinum prices rose a little on Wednesday after falling 2.6 percent a day earlier on news of the Lonmin deal.
At Marikana, strikers celebrated the deal as a triumph for AMCU, which exploded onto the labor scene in January when its turf war with the NUM led to a six-week closure of the world's largest platinum mine, run by Implats.
Thousands of workers and their families gathered at a soccer pitch near the mine to sing victory songs and denounce the NUM.
"I am happy now," said 42-year-old rock-driller Simphiwe Booi. "Now we can eat."
MAKING ENDS MEET
The 100-year-old ANC was born out of South Africa's fight against white rule, and rejected the exploitation of poor black miners toiling in the country's fabled gold reefs and other mineral deposits.
Led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC promised a better life for all when it took power on the end of apartheid in 1994.
But despite billions of dollars spent on infrastructure, housing, healthcare and education, income disparity and unemployment have increased while chronic joblessness has helped entrench a massive underclass.
While mineworkers have seen their wages steadily increase over the years and mining firms have built schools, hospitals and roads to help communities around their shafts, many of the 500,000 people in the industry still struggle to make ends meet.
Economists said Lonmin may have set a precedent for wage settlements that could spread through an economy already saddled with globally uncompetitive costs.
"The outcome of the negotiation at Marikana will likely set a new benchmark for mining more generally and wage costs are set to rise substantially," JP Morgan said in a research note.
Should wage hikes take root, they would also be likely to stoke wider inflation and curb the central bank's ability to cut interest rates to boost anemic economic growth.
The gold sector has also not been spared, with 15,000 miners at the KDC West operation of Gold Fields, the world's fourth largest bullion producer, on an illegal strike.
Amplats shares were unchanged while Implats closed 1.1 percent lower.
(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard, Pascal Fletcher, Agnieszka Flak and Tiisetso Motsoeneng in Johannesburg; Writing by Ed Stoddard and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Ed Cropley and Alastair Macdonald)