Labor unrest spread in South Africa on Monday with a wildcat strike by more than 10,000 workers halting operations at a gold mine while few workers reported for duty in the fourth week of a violent stoppage over poor pay at the world's third largest platinum mine.
Gold Fields International said its strike started Sunday night and that senior managers met Monday with strikers at the west section of its KDC mine demanding the removal of National Union of Mineworkers' shop stewards and a minimum monthly wage of R12,500 ($1560). Some 12,000 miners at east KDC staged a weeklong illegal strike to demand the removal of shop stewards that ended Sept. 3.
At a second platinum mine, Implats, 15,000-plus workers are demanding a 10 percent pay rise although they are continuing to work, spokesman Johan Theron said.
Lonmin PLC platinum mine said just 6 percent of its 28,000 workers turned up Monday morning at its mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Mine drivers drove around looking for workers to pick up, but the buses returned to the mine empty.
In Marikana, hundreds of chanting strikers descended on one after another of the Lonmin mine shafts on Monday, carrying traditional spears and sticks. They marched for some 10 kilometers (6 miles) outside the gated shafts, under the close eye of armed police in riot gear, some in armored cars, others on foot.
As strikers approached, police and mine security escorted some of the working miners away and explosives were removed from the scene. Protesters chased one miner but he managed to run away and police picked him up. Strikers have threatened to kill any miners or managers who do not respect their demand for all work to stop until Lonmin agrees to a monthly take-home pay of 12,500 rand ($1,560), about double their current wages.
Lonmin had hoped many more miners would come to work since a peace accord was signed last week with three major unions. But it was rejected by a breakaway union and nonunion strikers.
The government brokered the peace deal after police shot and killed 34 miners and wounded 78 on Dec. 16 at Marikana, a mass shooting reminiscent of apartheid-era days that has traumatized the nation of 48 million. Ten people were killed in the week before the shootings: two police officers hacked to death by strikers, six union shop stewards and two mine guards burned alive in their car.
The Legal Resources Centre, meanwhile, announced that it has hired forensic experts and pathologists to investigate the Marikana violence on behalf of the South African Human Rights Commission. The commission has stepped in following local news reports alleging that some miners were shot as they tried to surrender to police; others were shot in the back as they ran away from the police fire; and that some were run over and killed by police armored cars.
Police and government officials have refused to comment on the allegations, saying they must await the results of a judicial commission of inquiry that is to report to President Jacob Zuma in January.
Miners told The Associated Press they are getting desperate and do not have enough money to feed their families because of the no-work, no-pay strike. One said a loan shark is refusing to give money to any but long-time customers. Still they said they remain resolute and will not return to work until their wage demand is met. The miners refused to give their names to a reporter.
The National Union of Mineworkers said the Marikana strikers had gone around Sunday night threatening anyone who went to work.
Negotiations between mine managers, several unions and representatives of strikers who do not want to be represented by any of the unions were postponed for 24 hours because the strikers' representatives said they did not know about the meeting, said Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey. She said the talks would start off by working out a framework for salary negotiations and probably would last several days.
But Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of Solidarity union representing mainly white mine workers, said the strikers' representatives sent a message saying their position had not changed and they would not go back to work until Lonmin agrees to the salary demand.
The last of the miners killed by police were buried during the weekend, one in Lesotho and three in South Africa. The Daily Dispatch newspaper quoted a family member as saying that one of them, Thembelakhe Mati, was wounded in the shooting and got away to hide in a shack, fearing he would be arrested if he went to the mine hospital for treatment.
Half a dozen buses carrying mourners who had attended the funerals in far-flung parts of the country returned Monday to a shantytown of tin-walled shacks without water or electricity near the mine.