S. African workers return to Anglo American mine

South African miners return to work at Anglo American Platinum mine, ending 8-week strike

Associated Press
S. African workers return to Anglo American mine
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A South African Police truck, left, that was overturned by farm workers after they went on a rampage in Wolseley, South Africa, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Violent protests by farm workers have erupted in South Africa after weeks of unrest in the country's mining industry. Television images showed protesters overturn a police truck and set fires in the streets Wednesday in a town in South Africa's Western Cape. The workers have been protesting their wages, saying they want a minimum wage of $17 a day. Currently, workers make about half that amount a day. (AP Photo)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Miners at Anglo American Platinum Ltd. operations in South Africa returned to work Thursday, ending a more than eight-week strike that crippled the world's largest platinum producer.

The arrival of workers at Anglo American Platinum's operations in Rustenburg, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, marked a waning of the crisis that has struck South Africa's mining industry in recent months.

But at the same time farm workers angered over their minimum daily wages launched a second day of violent protests in the nation's Western Cape, setting fires and marching through the countryside.

Miners began attending safety seminars in the morning, Anglo American Platinum spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said Thursday. The safety training should take about a week to complete, meaning there won't be any platinum production during that time, she said.

"The company is pleased to welcome its employees back to work," Sithole said in a statement.

The strike at Anglo American Platinum, known locally as Amplats, began amid unrest across South Africa's mining industry, a major economic engine of the nation. The company fired 12,000 workers and then reinstated them, though the miners did not return to work.

Workers had demanded pay increases to give them 16,000 rand (about $1,800) in monthly pay. In the end, the workers settled for less. In the last several days, Amplats offered workers a one-time 4,500 rand ($500) payment, as well as a monthly pretax salary increase of 400 rand ($45). While striking workers said they still wanted higher wages, the fatigue of the long strike likely played a part in ending the standoff.

Late Thursday, the company said the final deal would apply to 48,000 employees.

But the financial damage has already been done to Anglo American, a mining giant.

In a statement Wednesday to investors, the company's platinum arm said its year-end earnings "will decrease by more than 20 percent" compared to last year. It blamed the strikes in part for the losses. Meanwhile, world platinum prices have risen about $200 an ounce to about $1,600 during the unrest.

The end of the Amplats strike marks a slowdown in the unrest in South Africa's mining industry, a dominant source of platinum, gold and chromium for the rest of the world.

Still, sporadic violence and arrests continued. On Thursday, police in Rustenburg arrested 23 miners who they said stoned police cars in front of a magistrate's court where there was a hearing for miners arrested earlier in the week at a violent protest at an Xstrata PLC mine nearby.

Meanwhile, strikes have hit South Africa's agriculture industry, another major part of its economy. On Wednesday, a protest turned violent as workers set fire to some farms, overturned a police truck and confronted officers in riot gear in the country's Western Cape. The police fired tear gas to drive away protesters, as gunshots could be heard in television footage.

At least one man was killed in the violence Wednesday and five others injured. On Thursday, police again confronted angry workers despite a claim by the government that a deal to delay the protests had been reached.

Most of the striking farm workers come from the vineyards of South Africa, the world's eighth largest overall producer of wine. They are asking for an increase in the minimum day wage to 150 rand ($13), up from about 70 rand ($8).

The strikes come as South Africa faces a slowing economy and high unemployment. The nation's credit rating also has been downgraded by two major agencies, leading opposition parties to criticize the governing African National Congress.

Appearing before the country's parliament Thursday and facing hostile questions, President Jacob Zuma of the ANC at one point repeated three times: "This country is stable."

"You go to all of the democracies in this world and there are strikes continuously," Zuma said. "It does not (mean) that there is instability. You go to Paris, you go to London, you go to everywhere, there are strikes, they are a feature of democracy."

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Online:

Anglo American Platinum Ltd.: www.angloplatinum.com

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .

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