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S.Africa mine unrest hits world No.1 platinum firm

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 12 Sep 2012 09:07 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Amplats becomes latest target of labour unrest

* Access to Amplats shafts blocked by strikers - police

* Platinum prices spike, Amplats shares fall

By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Labour unrest sweeping across South Africa's mining sector hit top world platinum producer Anglo American Platinum on Wednesday, with striking miners blockading roads leading to shafts belonging to the mining giant, police said.

The platinum price jumped as much as 1.5 percent to ${esc.dollar}1,624.74 an ounce, its highest since mid-April amid fears of more disruption to supplies of the precious metal used in jewellery and vehicle catalytic converters.

South Africa is home to 80 percent of known reserves. The platinum price has jumped more than 17 percent since police shot dead 34 protesters at the Marikana mine of world No. 3 platinum producer Lonmin on Aug. 16, the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The "Marikana massacre" has poisoned industrial relations across the mining sector and become a potent symbol of the ruling African National Congress' (ANC) failure to deliver on promises of a "better life for all" in the post-apartheid era.

The bloodshed and the government's inability to ease unrest undermining already shaky growth in Africa's biggest economy is also fuelling a campaign against President Jacob Zuma, who faces an internal ANC leadership battle in December.

"Around 1,000 mineworkers had a confrontation with mine security last night at the Siphumelele shaft and the situation has spread to other mine shafts this morning," regional police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said of the trouble at Amplats.

He declined to give any details of the size of the security operation, the latest police deployment in more than five weeks of union violence in the "platinum belt" around Rustenburg, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

Amplats' four Rustenburg mines represent almost 17 percent of total production by the company, which accounts for 40 percent of world platinum output. They employ more than 19,000 people.

"WIDESPREAD INTIMIDATION"

The strikes, which stem from a challenge by the small but militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) to the dominance of the ANC-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), are also spreading into the gold sector.

The NUM said workers at the Beatrix mine, run by world No. 4 producer Gold Fields were set to strike this week, compounding wildcat industrial action this week by 15,000 workers at the company's KDC West west of Johannesburg.

ANC renegade Julius Malema - the de facto face of the unofficial 'Anybody But Zuma' rebellion in the ANC - is also fanning the flames, appearing twice at KDC to speak to striking workers. He called on Tuesday for a national mining strike.

Ministers and NUM leaders have dismissed him as an irresponsible opportunist but the expelled Youth League leader is achieving rock star status among the legions of poor whose lives have changed little in the 18 years since apartheid ended.

Amplats said miners at its Rustenburg operations were "not on strike", but said it was aware of "widespread cases of intimidation".

"We confirm that yesterday, some of our employees were unable to clock in for night shift due to fear of intimidation and threats by unidentified individuals in and around our Rustenburg operations," it said in a statement.

Siphumelele is one of four mines near Rustenburg that analysts expect to be targeted as "restructuring candidates" by Amplats parent company Anglo American.

Shares in Amplats, which has largely avoided the labour unrest this year that has hit rivals Impala Platinum and Lonmin, fell 3.75 percent. Anglo American, which owns 80 percent of Amplats, shed 3 percent.

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