MAC: Mines and Communities

South Africa: Three die in Impala mine violence

Published by MAC on 2012-02-28
Source: Reuters, SAPA, Bloomberg

Production at Impala, the world's second largest platinum mining company has been brought to a standstill.

The officially "recognised" National Union of Mineworkers has been waging battle with a rival union that claims to support the interests of workers who face the greatest risks.

Already, two employees have been killed in the ensuing violence. And, last Friday, a contract worker was reportedly beaten to death as he tried to attend work.

Impala claims it has been re-hiring miners who were previously dismissed, blaming "unprecedented levels of intimidation" for the fact that hundreds of them have failed to do so.


Rustenburg labour dispute costs Implats 80,000 platinum ounces to date

By Sherilee Lakmidas


21 February 2012

JOHANNESBURG - Impala Platinum, the world's second largest platinum producer, said on Monday that a violent labour dispute at its flagship Rustenburg operations has cost it 80,000 ounces in lost production to date.

Mine workers listen to COSATU General Secretary at Imapla Platinum
Mine workers listen to COSATU General Secretary at Imapla
Platinum in Rustenburg, 21 February 2012. Source: Reuters

The stoppage, now in its fifth week, is costing 20,000 ounces a week but the company said its capital projects remained "largely unaffected" by the unfolding drama around the mine, where violence has claimed the lives of two miners.

The Rustenburg operations lie 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Johannesburg and are the world's largest platinum producing mines, accounting for some 15 percent of global supply.

Operations were brought to halt after over 17,000 striking rock drill operators and other mineworkers were dimissed and the rehiring process failed to secure enough mineworkers to restart the shafts.

Around 7,800 workers, including over 900 rock drill operators, have since been re-hired but the operation needs at least 2,000 rock drill operators to restart production.

Implats management said in a statement the majority of employees want to return to work, but "unprecedented levels of intimidation and violence" were preventing them from doing so.

South Africa's mines minister Susan Shabangu said the police needed to stamp out the intimidation, in her first public comments on the issue.

"I think what is happening at the Impala mine, it cannot be allowed to continue. It's not good for workers who are keen to work but are being intimidated," she said.

"We appeal to the police to take decisive action where there is intimidation," she told Reuters near the town of Ventersdorp, while visiting the family of a female mineworker who was murdered underground in an unrelated incident.

The dispute has centered on a bonus offered only part of the workforce but has escalated into a struggle between competing unions.

Implats on Monday again blamed one union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, for stirring a hornet's nest as rock drill operators reject the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

"We have seen the emergence of a rival new union, the AMCU," Implats said.

Implats said "criminal attacks" on its property and the NUM membership had been extended to communities around the mine which have been the scene of rioting and looting.

The South African police confirmed that a second miner had been killed in a standoff on Sunday night.

Regional police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said a riot started on Sunday when 600 men went house-to-house through a township trying to force others to join them in a vandalism spree at the mine.

"Their intention was to take them to the mineshaft. The police struggled to disperse the crowd," said Ngubane. The dead man had been shot, and another was found with a bullet wound in the thigh, he added. (Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Ventersdorp; Editing by William Hardy)

Impala boardroom set alight

South African Press Association (SAPA)

22 February 2012

JOHANNESBURG - A boardroom was burnt down during ongoing violent protests at Impala Platinum Mine (Implats) near Rustenburg on Wednesday, North West police said.

"The boardroom was set on fire in the early hours of this morning [Wednesday], at shaft 7A," said Brigadier Thulani Ngubane.

He said no injuries were reported. A case of arson had been opened. No arrest had been made.

The protests, which are linked to a five-week long strike at Impala's operation in Rustenburg, have claimed two lives so far.

The mine dismissed 17,000 workers after they went on an unprotected strike demanding that salaries of rock drill operators to be increased to R9000.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) negotiated with the mine to re-employ the dismissed workers.

Some workers, most of them at the north shafts, refused to return to work unless they were paid at least R9000 a month.

Most NUM members in the north shafts do not want to be represented by the NUM, claiming the union has failed them.

They want to be represented by a new union, the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu).

NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said more workers were coming forward to be re-employed, and by Tuesday over 8000 had been re-employed.

"The process is moving smoothly," he said.

Implats said on Tuesday that discussions with the NUM would continue around any issues which still needed to be resolved once the workers were back at work.

Implats contract worker beaten to death

By Ed Stoddard


24 February 2012

JOHANNESBURG - A contract worker at Impala Platinum's troubled Rustenburg operation in South Africa was beaten to death during an assault on Friday when he tried to go to work, police said.

The assault, which left two other workers injured, underscores how far the company is from resolving a violent and illegal labour dispute that has already seen at least two other people killed and cost the world's second largest platinum producer 80,000 ounces and counting in lost output.

"Another life has been lost when a mine contract worker was attacked this morning, he was a Zimbabwean national," said police spokesman Thulani Ngubane.

Ngubane said two other workers were also injured in the same attack in the early hours of the morning. Implats said at least six workers had been assaulted overnight during attacks directed at those wanting to work.

The disruptions at Implats' Rustenburg operations, the world's single largest platinum mine which accounts for 15 percent of global output when all systems are operational, is a key reason behind a 23 percent spike in the spot price of the white metal in the year to date.

The mine accounts for about 60 percent of Implats' output.

The violence has pitted rival labour unions against each other and at times has triggered disorder in the impoverished shanty-towns that ring the mine.

Implats said on Friday that to date, 59 people had been treated in hospitals for injuries sustained in the violence and 24 remain hospitalised.

(Additional reporting by Sherilee Lakmidas; editing by Keiron Henderson)

Union awakes to defend itself in Impala Platinum strike violence

By Christy Filen


23 February 2012

JOHANNESBURG - The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has dismissed allegations that it is behind the violence at Impala Platinum's (Implats) flagship Rustenburg platinum mining operations as baseless and lacking substance.

The union did however admit to an intensive recruitment drive across the country covering all sectors.

"Our involvement in Implats is when we were invited by the workers during the strike action to make a presentation about AMCU. We accepted the invitation and the presentation was made, workers have requested that we give them our membership forms, which we did. At this stage we do know know how many have joined. As we were addressing the workers Implats management instructed security personnel to remove us from the mine premises" said AMCU President, Joseph Mathunjwa.

AMCU said its removal from the mine premises was because it was not supposed to address the workers as it was not a recognised union thus it heeded the call to leave in order to avoid confrontation. The president denied making any promises to employees and said that the presentation was purely to provide background on who and what AMCU was.

"We were invited by the workers. Recruitment it's a different story than [sic] engaging the workers on the issues in dispute. We are entitled to recruit. If workers want to join the union, we will always avail ourselves" said Mathunjwa.

On the allegation that this was opportunistic the union said that this allegation was in fact a confirmation by Implats management that workers grievances were not being addressed.

Mathunjwa was addressing media in eMalahleni today in an effort to clear up what it refers to as a "misrepresentation of facts made by Impala Platinum mine management regarding the influence of AMCU".

In making comparisons to allegations made at a recent Lonmin strike, Mathunjwa said the strike at Lonmin was again The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) management "ganging against [sic] the workers and and failing to resolve issues".

The strike at Implats is ongoing for over a month now and has resulted in the loss of two lives, numerous injuries, reports of intimidation and damage to property.

AMCU said the cause of the strike is that there are genuine complaints raised by employees caused by management failure and NUM's incapacity to deal with the issue of salary disparities.

"It is a well known fact that rock drill operators are the employees who are most exposed to risks due to the conditions they work under. Their lives are always in danger, yet they are paid slavery wages" said Mathunjwa. Slavery wages was defined as not being able to afford the basic daily necessities and send children for further education.

NUM is the only recognised union at Implats Rustenburg and there is a threshold recognition agreement that requires 50% plus 1 membership of employees for a union to become officially recognised on the mine. With NUM's historically high levels of members this has effectively excluded any competition by the smaller unions.

AMCU addressed this by accusing mines of moving the goal posts regularly by changing the level of threshold agreements in an effort to keep them out.

"We've got one at Barberton mine [Pan African Resources] whereby the threshold are [sic] changed each and every time when we acquire the set threshold the management will sit with the NUM and set a new threshold to get you out. We had the very same experience at Two Rivers platinum [African Rainbow Minerals] whereby the threshold has changed three times a year just to get AMCU out of the process" said Mathunjwa.

The apolitical union was founded it said by disgruntled employees at Douglas colliery in 1998 after NUM colluded with management. It said it had 60 000 members spread across the coal, platinum, chrome and gold sectors but was not able to accurately say how many in each sector.

Implats confirmed late yesterday that the rehiring process is continuing and that 8,368 workers have been re-engaged, of which 1,074 are rock drill operators. The total Rustenburg employee complement is now 24,168.

Man shot dead in South Africa mining clash

By Tshepiso Mokhema


20 February 2012

JOHANNESBURG - A man was shot dead in violent protests at the world's biggest platinum mine owned by Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. in South Africa on Sunday, a police spokesman said.

Seven people were injured in clashes at the No. 6 Shaft of the company's operations near Rustenburg, in the North West Province, Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said by mobile phone Monday. About 5,000 people have gathered for demonstrations on the road between the mine and the Freedom Park township, he said.

"So far, they are still gathering," Ngubane said. "Police are still monitoring the situation. There have been no arrests today." There is no clear indication of how many police have been deployed to the area and there is no violence, intimidation or vandalism taking place, he said.

Impala fired 17,200 workers at the operation, which accounts for about 12 per cent of global production of platinum, by Feb. 2 after an illegal strike began. By Feb. 14 the disruption had lost output of 60,000 ounces of the metal worth about 1.2 billion rand ($156 million), Impala chief executive officer David Brown said Feb. 16.

"The situation at Impala is still tense," Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, said by phone. Some miners are returning to work and "we are expecting the number of workers to increase by the end of today. We are leaving the intimidation issue to the police, the police will sort it out."

A miner was killed on his way to work on Feb. 16, union regional secretary Sydwell Dokolwana said Feb. 17. Almost 100 business owners abandoned their shops after they were looted and vandalized over the weekend, the South African Press Association reported, citing police. The traders are mostly from Somalia and Pakistan, City Press reported Sunday.

"People cannot feel safe in an area where there are riots," Ngubane said Monday. "People are being taken out of their houses."

Almost 130 people were arrested on charges ranging from malicious damage to property to theft this weekend, Ngubane told the South African Press Association.

The protests were caused by rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers, recognized by Impala as the main labor group at the operation, and the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union, which is trying to gain members, Brown said.

Impala had rehired about 7,000 workers by Feb. 17, Seshoka said then. The company will consider reinstatement of workers rather than rehiring so that they can retain benefits such as employee share ownership, Seshoka said.

Impala's spokesmen didn't respond to e-mailed requests and three messages left on mobile and fixed-line phones seeking comment Monday.

Union says Impala Platinum to rehire all strike-dismissed miners


18 February 2012

JOHANNESBURG - Impala Platinum, the world's second-largest platinum producer, has agreed to re-instate all 17,200 workers who were dismissed following an illegal strike, aiming to end a dispute that paralysed the company's biggest mine, the miners' union said on Saturday.

South African riot police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon this week at hundreds of striking miners who went on the rampage at Implats' Rustenburg plant, the world's single biggest platinum mine.

Production at Rustenburg, which accounts for 60 percent of Implat's output, came to a halt a month ago after the company sacked 17,200 employees following a January 12 wildcat strike over bonuses. The strike is costing the company an average of 3,000 ounces of platinum a day.

"The company agreed to re-employ all the 17,200 workers and that as soon as all the workers are back at work, both the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Implats will meet to engage on all outstanding issues," the NUM said in a statement.

The union urged all workers to return to work next week and said it would call for a general strike at Implats should the company fail to deliver on its promises to re-hire all of the dismissed employees.

Since the strike began, the price of platinum, a key ingredient in catalytic converters in cars, has climbed nearly 9 percent, in part because of fears about supply disruptions. South Africa is home to 80 percent of global platinum reserves.

World's Biggest Platinum Mine Monitored by Police After Riot

By Franz Wild and Jana Marais


17 February 2012

Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. said police are monitoring the world's biggest platinum mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, after violent protests yesterday.

The situation was "calm" by late today and a big police presence remained at the mine, also known as Impala, Lesiba Seshoka, a National Union of Mineworkers' spokesman, said by e- mail. About 500 miners and unemployed people protested outside the mine today, said Sydwell Dokolwana, the union's regional secretary in Rustenburg. Demonstrators yesterday killed a miner who was on his way to work, he said by phone.

"The situation was very, very tense in the morning," Dokolwana said. "Because of the presence of police for now there are no road blockages. People are just singing and carrying sticks and pangas," Dokolwana said, referring to heavy, machete-like knives usually used to clear vegetation.

Impala fired 17,200 workers at the mine, which accounts for about 12 percent of global production of platinum, two weeks ago after an illegal strike began. By Feb. 14 the disruption had delayed output of 60,000 ounces of the metal worth about 1.2 billion rand ($154 million), Impala's Chief Executive Officer, David Brown, said yesterday.

About 500 policemen have been deployed to the operation, the South African Press Association reported, citing Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, a police officer.

Impala shares rose 3 percent to close at 162.99 rand in Johannesburg after declining 4 percent yesterday. The price of platinum advanced 0.7 percent to $1,636 an ounce as of 3:32 p.m. in London.

Dispute Meeting

The protests were sparked by rivalry between NUM, recognized by Impala as the main labor group at the operation, and the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union, which is trying to gain members, Brown said.

The union met Impala today in Johannesburg to try to resolve the situation. The meeting was "successful," Seshoka said by phone. Impala has rehired about 700 workers, he said. The company will consider reinstatement of workers rather than rehiring so that they can retain benefits such as employee share ownership, Seshoka said.

The mine was "basically quiet" overnight and this morning, the company said in an e-mailed response to questions today.

Over 100 Implats workers arrested


17 February 2012

More than 100 mineworkers were arrested at Impala Platinum's Rustenburg mine on Thursday after violent protests, North West police said.

"They are being booked in at a local police station and the exact figure would be known once that process is done," said Brigadier Thulani Ngubane late in the afternoon.

Ngubane said 500 police officers had secured the mine and succeeded in containing the violence.

"We are dealing with a mob of about 5000. We have taken charge of the mine shafts and hope there will be no interruption tomorrow (Friday)," he said.

Earlier, Ngubane described the situation at the mine as very hostile and tense. A police helicopter and riot police were deployed to calm tensions.

On Wednesday night, a man was found naked and beaten outside hostel eight. He died later, said Ngubane.

Early on Thursday, mineworkers started gathering in Phokeng, and apparently intimidated and assaulted people trying to get to and from work in the township, outside Rustenburg.

They barricaded No 9 Road, towards Freedom Park, and threw stones at cars, including police vehicles, hitting a policewoman on the head. She was treated at a local clinic and discharged.

Around 8am, the crowd torched the satellite police station in Freedom Park. Police later arrested eight people trying to loot shops in the area, according to the police's statement.

By 10am, the crowd started looting a bottle store near the mine's hostel eight, as well as two shops. Two people were arrested.

Ngubane said police were not allowed to use rubber bullets to control the crowd following a directive from the police ministry last year.

This was because of concern over the high number of injuries and at least one death associated with the use of rubber bullets for crowd control.

Police urged the mine management, unions and leaders in the crowd to "sit around the table and come up with an amicable solution to the problem".

National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the union would meet management on Friday to try and broker a deal in their favour.

"We hope for an agreement that workers will be reinstated instead of having to apply for their jobs as management had indicated," said Seshoka.

"Tensions are very high...We hope that management will listen to what we are saying because it doesn't help to be arrogant when the company is losing money."

Seshoka said the company's intention to recruit new workers would be a long process as those people might still need to be trained, thus affecting production.

Comment was not immediately available from the mine as it was presenting its results for the half year ending December 2011, which showed it had lost production of 60,000 ounces (1700kg) of platinum since Tuesday due to the dispute.

The mineworkers were fired after a dispute over a retention bonus and an illegal strike. First around 5000 rock drillers were fired after they refused to accept that they would not get the bonus and went on an illegal strike. Then the rest of the over 17,000 workers were also fired for not being at work.

Seshoka said the mine should have foreseen problems when it announced it would not reinstate the workers, but make them reapply for their old posts.

Seshoka said the company had made the mistake of allowing the first fired mineworkers to remain on the premises. This group then prevented the others from working.

Without reinstatement they now had to reapply for their jobs, along with other job seekers, and renegotiate their terms of employment. They would lose benefits such as higher pay for longer service.

NUM saw the rehiring as the company taking advantage of the situation to restructure. The union vowed to take strong action against its members responsible for violence. - Sapa

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