Mineworkers in South Africa have embarked upon a 24 hour strike to demonsrate the necessity for better safety conditions.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
South African miners strike over safety
Tue 4 Dec 2007, 14:58 GMT
By James Macharia
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Almost a quarter of a million South African miners downed tools on Tuesday in a show of force aimed at breaking a cycle of mounting deaths in mines, disrupting output in the world's top platinum and gold producer.
"If the big companies do not do anything to improve safety, we will be back on the streets again, we will stop the mines with a two or three months strike," Lesiba Seshoka, the National Union of Mineworker's (NUM) spokesman, said at a protest rally.
The one-day national strike is the first industry-wide strike on safety, launched by the country's biggest miners' union in a bid to curb what they call a "genocide" in the nation's mines, some of which are the deepest in the world.
Thousands of mineworkers, some clad in their mining gear of boots, blue overalls and helmets brought traffic to a standstill in downtown Johannesburg, dancing and marching to the Chamber of Mines (Com), which represents big mining companies.
They waved shovels and brandished sticks and placards saying "No More!", "Mine Safety is a Human Right" and "Pay us a Living Wage", as they wailed mournfully for around 200 of their fallen colleagues, who have been killed in rock-falls and explosions in the mines this year -- 199 died last year and 202 in 2005.
The strike, which kicked of at the stroke of midnight, bit a huge chunk off the mining sector's output, sending platinum to a new one-week record of $1,460/1,464 an ounce.
Anglo Platinum, the world's top platinum producer, accounting for 40 percent of world supplies, said the firm would lose 9,000 refined platinum ounces.
Second-ranked Impala Platinum (Implats) saw a loss of some 3,500 ounces of platinum, and David Brown, its chief executive officer said his company's safety record in 2007 had been "disappointing".
Some 900 kg of gold (28,935 ounces) and about 590 kg (18,969 ounces) in platinum output could be lost, an analyst said.
The NUM said in a memorandum to the CoM it wanted mining companies to invest in safety improvements, train workers on safety, maintain mine shafts adequately and urged the government to prosecute negligent mine managers.
CEOs IN SPOTLIGHT
"CEOs must be accountable for every death at their mine," Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of powerful umbrella trade union movement COSATU, told Reuters at the street protest, as similar other protests raged at various town countrywide.
Frans Barker, head negotiator for the CoM said the mining houses would from next year start a series of high-level meetings with the NUM to seek ways to curb the mine accidents in South Africa, a key source of vanadium, coal, diamonds, iron ore, chromium, manganese, nickel and uranium.
Government officials were not available to comment, but have in the past backed calls for the strike and accused mining companies of shoddy maintenance, vowing to shut mines after fatalities, and prosecute negligent mine managers in future.
Analysts said the workers had made a public point about work conditions underground and companies now had to act.
"It's is a concern if the fatalities and mining disruptions continue as companies will not meet their production targets or generate the required return to shareholders," Coronation Fund Managers' Cape Town-based investment analyst Duane Cable said.
Shares in Anglo American, which has platinum, gold and coal interests, led the bourse lower, diving 3.77 percent.
AngloGold Ashanti, the country's top gold producer and the world's number-three producer, said it would not produce any gold on the day, saying even those workers that showed up would be trained on safety issues rather than mine gold.
The firm's South African operations produced 618,000 ounces in the quarter to end-September.
Gold producers Gold Fields and Harmony Gold, BHP Billiton, the biggest exporter of coal from South Africa, second-ranked Anglo Coal, and Kumba, Africa's top iron ore producer also suffered output disruptions.
(Additional reporting by John Mkhize)
(Editing by Chris Johnson)