JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Hundreds of striking South African workers rallied on Saturday to press Anglo American Platinum to revoke its decision to fire 12,000 wildcat strikers amid a wave of labour strife sweeping Africa’s largest economy.
Nearly 50 people have been killed since August in labour conflict in the crucial mining sector, and President Jacob Zuma’s ruling ANC is struggling to damp down some of the worst social unrest since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Several hundred workers, watched by police in armoured vehicles and a helicopter, held a two-hour rally in a soccer stadium near the platinum belt hub city of Rustenburg, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, and were urged to fight for their jobs.
The hastily arranged rally, held under a blazing sun and punctuated by songs of labour struggle, was more subdued than other protests over the past weeks where strikers brandished machetes and clubs, threatening to set fire to mine shafts.
Workers said the termination notice, delivered to many by SMS, caught them by surprise on Friday, despite repeated threats from Amplats that it planned to discipline strikers.
“It just isn’t fair. The company pays me little and I have worked here for years,” one of the sacked miners, who asked not to be named, told Reuters by phone.
Others told local media they would not give up the fight for higher wages, even if that meant more violence.
Strike leaders said workers would stay off the job, making sure Amplats’ mines cannot extract ore.
“There will be no operations that will operate. An ordinary worker is prepared to die for his own rights,” one of the strike leaders Evans Ramokga, told Reuters.
Ramokga said there had been secret talks to broker a settlement, but Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said she would not “qualify that with a comment”, adding “there has been no progress”.
The sackings at Amplats (Anglo American Platinum) on Friday triggered a 4 percent fall to 3-1/2 year lows in South Africa’s rand as investors dumped the country’s assets.
In a related move, Atlatsa Resources has sacked some of the 2,500 workers who went on a wildcat strike this week at its Bokoni platinum mine in South Africa, a company official said on Saturday.
Bokoni, a joint venture with Anglo American Platinum, is to release more details of the move on Monday. Workers have two days to appeal the decision.
Each miner supports on average about eight to 10 people, often living in abject poverty, according to industry data. The sackings could cut off income to more than 100,000 people.
Wage increases of up to 22 percent awarded to end a wildcat strike at Lonmin’s platinum mine last month have led other workers to strike at other mines, car makers and municipal governments.
Zuma tried to reassure investors by saying this week that since the end of white-minority rule South Africans have shown “the capacity to overcome difficulties when we work together”.
With an ANC leadership run-off looming in December, Nelson Mandela’s 100-year-old liberation movement is preoccupied with its own divisions. Zuma is seen as unlikely to take any action that could upset his political allies in the unions.
In a move that helped relieve some of the tension, several hundred striking miners ended a three-day work stoppage at the South African operations of Petra Diamonds late on Friday.
“There was no deal. They just agreed to return to work,” Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for the powerful National Union of Mineworkers, said.