Labour unrest has spread to at least two more platinum mines after police killed 34 strikers and wounded another 78 at the Lonmin platinum mine last week.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa was in Rasimone miners from the Royal Bafokeng mine have joined thousands who are protesting at the Lonmin mine.
The striking miners say they want a pay increase and their living conditions improved.
“Right now this group seems fairly peaceful,” Mutasa reported.
“They say they will continue to strike until mine managers give them their pay increase but mine managers say this is impossible because the industry is struggling and they can’t afford the 300 per cent salary increase the strikers are demanding.”
Police have been posted nearby in case the protests become violent, but their main concern is that other mine workers across the country will strike as they have threatened. This could have a detrimental effect on the country’s economy.
Thandi Modise, premier of North West Province where the platinum mines are located, warned on Tuesday that the protests may spread further if authorities don’t deal with the massive and growing inequality gap that has many South Africans feeling they have not benefited in the 18 years since black majority rule replaced a racist white minority government.
South Africa has become the richest nation in Africa but still has more than 25 per cent unemployment – nearly 50 per cent among young people. Protests against shortages of housing, electricity and running water and poor education and health services are an almost daily affair.
That poverty is contrasted by the ostentatious lifestyles of a small elite of blacks, who have become multimillionaires, often through corruption related to government tenders.
There are growing political implications of demands for higher wages spreading to other mines, raising fears the instability could inflame protests at more of the South African mines that provide 75 per cent of the world’s platinum.
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South Africa’s miningweb.com website calls it “a possibly ominous development” that could have a “devastating effect on the South African economy as a whole with metals and minerals sales providing such a large part of the country’s export income”.
South African President Jacob Zuma travelled to the troubled Lonmin mine on Wednesday after striking miners there heckled a committee of government ministers sent to help the grieving community with identification of bodies of slain miners, burial arrangements and bereavement counselling.
Platinum mines, already hit by low world prices and flagging demand, especially from vehicle makers who use the metal to control carbon emissions, may not be in a financial position to seriously consider the demands, some industry analysts say.
The shutdown at London-registered Lonmin PLC mine at Marikana where the shootings occurred has cost hundreds of millions of dollars in share value.
The company said on Tuesday it may have to renegotiate with bankers debt payments that are due on September 30. Lonmin also said it will be unable to meet its annual target production of 750,000 ounces.