South Africa police fire rubber bullets at striking miners

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (Reuters) – South African police fired rubber bullets and teargas on Tuesday at striking Amplats miners who were protesting against a union-brokered deal to end a six-week wildcat walkout at the top platinum producer.

One protester was dragged away bleeding heavily and unable to walk, and was treated by paramedics, a Reuters witness said.

The strikers at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mines near Rustenburg, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, had been due to return to work following an offer by the company to reinstate 12,000 men sacked for downing tools six weeks ago.

Amplats said at the weekend it had reached a deal with several unions and would be offering sweeteners, such as a one-off hardship payment of 2,000 rand ($230), to end a strike that has crippled production.

A return to work on Tuesday was one of the conditions attached to the deal.

At the Thembelani mine hundreds of miners barricaded a road to one of the shafts with burning tyres.

“No one is at work today unless they snuck in,” Mayford Mjuza, a worker representative, told Reuters as a police helicopter hovered nearby.

Amplats said it was still gathering details on attendance at its four strike-hit Rustenburg mines.

Striking miners are due to hold a mass meeting at a football pitch near Rustenburg later on Tuesday.

Months of labour unrest in the mines have hit platinum and gold output, threatened growth in Africa’s biggest economy and drawn criticism of President Jacob Zuma for his handling of the most damaging strikes since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Management threats of mass dismissals and some payment sweeteners have ended some strikes in the last two weeks.

However, workers at Thembelani said they were determined to stay away until Amplats matched a salary increase of up to 22 percent offered by rival Lonmin following a violent wildcat walkout at its nearby Marikana platinum mine in August.

The Lonmin offer came in the wake of the police killing of 34 miners on August 16, the nation’s bloodiest security incident since apartheid.

MacDonald Motsaathebe, who has been with Amplats for 12 years, said workers did not agree to the deal struck at the weekend between Amplats and unions including the National Union of Mineworkers.

“We didn’t agree to the offer. We want 16,000 rand. Lonmin miners got it, and we want it,” said the 35-year-old, whose salary supports nine people. “We earn peanuts.”

While the situation at Amplats has yet to be resolved, tensions at other mining companies have eased.

Strikers at gold firms including AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields returned to work last week after threats of mass dismissals and an offer of a small pay increase.

(Additional reporting and writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Louise Ireland and Ed Cropley)