A leader for the striking platinum mineworkers in South Africa says the decision by Anglo American Platinum to fire 12,000 workers will only escalate problems, saying the company could only hire new people “over our dead bodies."
Evans Ramokga made that statement Saturday, a day after the firings. Several hundred workers held a rally in a soccer stadium near tRustenburg, 120 km northwest of Johannesburg, and were urged to keep fighting for their jobs.
"Ignore those [text messages] you've received saying you have been dismissed," one labour leader was quoted as saying by radio broadcaster Eyewitness News.
The world's top producer of platinum said it fired the workers for failing to attend disciplinary hearings in the aftermath of an unlawful strike that brought its Rustenburg operations to a halt.
Also on Saturday, Atlatsa Resources said it has let go some of the 2,500 workers who went on a wildcat strike this week at its Bokoni platinum mine — a joint venture with Anglo American Platinum. A company official said more details would be released Monday.
The labour unrest plaguing South Africa's mining sector started in August when miners are Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine staged a wildcat strike that led to police shooting and killing 34 miners. That and other violence during Marikana mine strikes is now the subject of an official inquiry even as unrest spreads, leading to renewed fears of violence.
About 80,000 miners, representing 16 per cent of the country's mine workforce, are currently striking in a wave of wildcat work stoppages that have serious economic and political implications for South Africa.
Strike leader Gaddafi Mdoda, a mineworker at Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, said he was one of the workers who received emails or SMS messages telling them they had been dismissed.
"Things are bad here," Mdoda said. The strike leader said he was shocked by the decision to dismiss striking workers, even though "it is nothing to be afraid of."
"Approximately 12,000 striking employees chose not to make representations, nor attend the hearings, and have therefore been dismissed in their absence," a statement from Amplats said, according to the South African Press Agency.
Mary Jane Morifi, a spokeswoman for Anglo American Platinum declined to comment, saying a detailed statement would be issued later Friday.
Violence has been reported at the company's Rustenburg mines, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets Thursday to disperse striking miners armed with sticks and other crude weapons. A striking miner's dead body was discovered Friday morning, the apparent victim of rubber bullets to the stomach, said Mdoda.
Amplats is the world's largest platinum producer and South Africa produces 75 per cent of the world's platinum.
Mdoda, the strike leader, said the fired miners would intensify their strike, even if they were no longer bona fide employees of Amplats. At least 20,000 mineworkers at Amplats have been staging a wildcat strike since Sept. 12, demanding about $1,500 in take-home pay. Amplats managers said from the start that the strike, which brought the company's operations in Rustenburg to a standstill, is unlawful.
South Africa's mining industry has been in turmoil since August, when mineworkers at a platinum mine staged a wildcat strike that led to police shooting and killing 34 workers in Marikana, shocking a nation that had not witnessed such a level of violence since the end of apartheid.
There seems to be no end in sight to the labour unrest, which has spread to coal and iron ore mines as well as to the road freight sector.
Some 20,000 truckers demanding a 22 per cent pay raise are currently staging a strike that threatens the supply of gas and groceries. Negotiations between striking truckers and the Road Freight Association "broke down" Thursday night, according to Vincent Masoga, a spokesman for the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union, which called the strike.