Union organizer shot dead in South Africa's restive platinum belt

Reuters News
Posted: May 12, 2013 9:53 AM

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A militant South African union said on Sunday that one of its organizers had been shot dead in the platinum belt city of Rustenburg, a potential flashpoint at a time when tensions are running high with job cuts and wage talks looming.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which poached tens of thousands of disgruntled workers last year from the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said the unnamed organizer had been killed on Saturday.

"It is obvious his killing is related to his involvement with AMCU in the area," Jimmy Gama, AMCU's national treasurer, told Reuters. "We are sending our officials there to find out more facts."

A police statement said that a 46-year-old man who was "alleged to be the regional organizer of AMCU" had been killed in a Rustenburg tavern on Saturday when an assailant shot him four times with a 9mm pistol.

An AMCU source in Rustenburg told Reuters the organizer had been an activist with the union at platinum producer Lonmin.

Police shot dead 34 striking miners last year at Lonmin's Marikana mine, the most violent single incident stemming from the AMCU-NUM turf war.

Local media reported that the AMCU activist killed on Saturday had been due to give testimony to a government inquiry into last year's police shootings, dubbed the "Marikana Massacre".

More than 50 people were killed in labor-related violence last year amid a wave of wildcat strikes that hit production in the platinum and gold sectors and there are concerns that there could be more unrest after Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) announced job cuts on Friday.

The world's top platinum producer, owned by Anglo American, said it would cut 6,000 mining jobs around Rustenburg. The layoffs were scaled back from the 14,000 initially proposed, as the company seeks to restore profits without provoking a backlash from the government and workers.

However, AMCU activists in the area have signaled that they will "fight" even these job losses and the union is to hold a mass meeting early this week to decide on its response. When the initial plan was unveiled in January, AMCU protests shut several mines for a day.

The union also said it would hold a news briefing on Monday to discuss Saturday's killing.

Forthcoming wage talks in South Africa's mining sector will be among the toughest ever, given inflation, rising worker militancy, shrinking company margins and falling commodity prices.

(Additional reporting by Tosin Sulaiman; Editing by David Goodman)