, RUSTENBURG, Oct 5 – The world’s biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, sacked 12,000 striking workers in South Africa on Friday, just hours after one miner was killed in clashes with police.
Anglo American Platinum said the miners failed to appear before disciplinary hearings “and have therefore been dismissed in their absence.”
It is the latest crisis to hit South Africa’s vital minerals sector, which has been crippled by a wave of violent disputes over miners’ pay since August.
Around 28,000 Amplats workers have been on strike for three weeks at the firm’s sprawling facilities in the northern town of Rustenburg, which account for around a quarter of world platinum production.
The company said the strike had so far cost 700 million rand ($80 million, 60 million euro) in lost revenue.
In a bid to halt further losses, Amplats on Monday warned wildcat strikers that they would be sacked if they failed to attend hearings. It has now made good on that promise.
“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.
Workers, some of whom received SMS messages from Amplats informing them of the news, reacted with a mixture of shock and defiance.
“If they fired us, no problem,” said Claudio, aged 37, from Mozambique. “We are going to market ourselves somewhere else.”
Others were more circumspect. “Now what is going to happen?” asked a worried 21-year-old miner from the eastern province of Mpumalanga, who had not gone to work because of the threat of violence from colleagues.
But with many miners unwilling to give up their demands for higher pay and Amplats taking a tough line, the spectre of violence loomed.
In August, 46 people died during a strike at the Lonmin platinum mine in nearby Marikana.
“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.
“Things now are tuning to a point,” said Gaddhafi Mdoda a worker and activist, “they are leaving us with no choice.”
At least six people have been killed around Rustenburg in strike-related violence this week.
Late Thursday one miner was killed when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group of 300 illegal strikers protesting on a hilltop close to the mines.
The independent police watchdog is investigating the man’s death “as the incident appeared to have arisen from police action,” according to police spokeswoman Emelda Setlhako.