SA platinum producer fires 12,000 strikers


ANGLO AMERICAN Platinum (Amplats) sacked 12,000 wildcat strikers yesterday, a high-stakes attempt by the world’s biggest platinum producer to push back at a wave of illegal stoppages sweeping through South Africa’s mining sector and beyond.

The rand fell sharply after the announcement, suggesting investors fear the sackings could worsen what is shaping up to be the most damaging period of labour unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Police shot dead one striking miner overnight, bringing the death toll in two months of unrest to 48.

Strikes have spread beyond the mining sector, with Shell saying that it would not be able to honour contracts to deliver fuel near Johannesburg because of a trucking strike.

The unrest is causing political trouble for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress, which has long-standing links to labour unions.

“You fire 12,000 people, and it’s like ‘Oh my God, what happens now?’,” one Johannesburg-based currency strategist said.

When rival Impala Platinum fired 17,000 workers in January to squash a union turf war, it led to a six-week stoppage in which three people were killed, the firm lost 80,000 ounces in output and platinum prices jumped 21 per cent.

The police shooting of 34 strikers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in August poisoned labour relations in the sector even more. And the hefty wage deal that ensued triggered copycat demands in gold and iron ore mines.

“Amplats had been giving signals that it was going to hold the line after Lonmin had folded – but it’s a huge gamble,” said Nic Borain, an independent political analyst. “Someone had to take it on the chin or this would have kept on unravelling and spread through the economy. It’s difficult to know whether this causes the unrest to spread . . . It could go either way.

Speaking to South Africa’s e-News television channel, one dismissed worker said Amplats was “starting a war”.

AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa’s biggest bullion producer, has lost virtually all local production due to wildcat strikes, while rivals Gold Fields and Harmony Gold have also taken a hit. – (Reuters)