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. And Mpumi Sithole, a spokeswoman for Amplats, said Saturday that the decision to fire the workers is final.
More 20,000 mineworkers at Amplats have been staging a wildcat strike since Sept. 12, demanding 12,500 rand (about $1,500) in take-home pay. Amplats managers said from the start that the strike is unlawful. On Friday, hours after renewed confrontations between armed police and striking miners on a hill near Amplats' Rustenburg mines, the company moved to dismiss the workers via text or email messages.
"Despite the company's repeated calls for employees to return to work, we have continued to experience attendance levels of less than 20 (percent)," Amplats said in a statement Friday. "Currently four of the company's mining operations in the Rustenburg area have insufficient staff to operate and only essential services are being carried out at those mines."
The labor unrest plaguing South Africa's mining sector started in August when workers at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine staged a wildcat strike that led to violence which left about 46 dead, including a police shooting that killed 34 miners. That and other violence during the Marikana mine strikes is now the subject of an official inquiry even as unrest spreads, leading to renewed fears of violence.
A union representative in Marikana inquiry was shot and killed Friday night at his house, the National Union of Mineworkers, or NUM, said Saturday. The victim could have been targeted because he was "a key witness" in the inquiry, according to NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka. He said the victim assisted the commission this week when it visited the hill where the miners were killed.
There seems to be no end in sight to the labor 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 percent 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.
The labor unrest has damaged South Africa's reputation as an investment destination. South Africa produces 75 percent of the world's platinum and is the No. 4 chrome producer and the fifth-biggest gold producer. South African President Jacob Zuma, the target of criticism by mineworkers who see him as aloof to their concerns, said Thursday that the violence witnessed in the mining sector was proof that "a climate of constructive social dialogue" needs to be created in the country.
"We should not seek to portray ourselves as a nation that is perpetually fighting," Zuma told South Africa's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.