Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

THE leader of a major protest by platinum miners called on Thursday for a national strike in the sector, deepening an industrial crisis that has spread across South Africa’s mines.

"On Sunday we are starting with a general strike here in Rustenburg," protest leader Mametlwe Sebei told several thousand workers at a soccer stadium near Rustenburg.

The action was designed to "bring the mining companies to their knees", he said, to mild applause from the crowd, which was armed with sticks and machetes.

Despite the weapons, the strikers insisted their push for a sharp hike in wages was peaceful.

"There should be no blood," one placard read.

Meanwhile, the man found dead near a group of strikers not far from Lonmin’s Marikana mine earlier this week has been identified as 51-year-old rock drill operator and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) shop steward Dumisani Mthinti, police said on Thursday.

Brig Thulani Ngubane said: "He had two open wounds at the back of his head that showed he was hacked with a sharp object."

His body was found on Tuesday, as the strike at the platinum mine entered its second month.

Mthinti was the 45th person killed in events associated with the strike since August 10. Ten people, including police and security guards, died in the week before police opened fire on protesters, killing 34 of them, on August 16.

Trade union Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union said on Thursday that it had been seeking an opportunity to engage with President Jacob Zuma and senior government officials to resolve the unrest at South Africa’s mines.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told reporters in Rustenburg that the union’s formal requests were being considered.

"From the day one of the (Marikana) massacres we are on record asking for a meeting with the office of the president. They are still thinking of when they are going to meet us; they have acknowledged that our letter was received and said the president would respond soon," Mr Mathunjwa said.

"We are still waiting. We have written to the Minister of Mineral Resources (Susan) Shabangu, Police Minister Nathi (Mthethwa) and the Labour Minister (Mildred Oliphant). We have done all that and have copies of the letters ... (as) proof," he said.

The newly established union called on Mr Zuma to intervene and stop the ongoing unrest in the mining sector. Mr Mathunjwa said Mr Zuma had to convene an urgent, all-inclusive mining indaba.

He said the mooted indaba would have to deal with issues including minimum wages, housing, skills development and a mining victims fund for the sector.

Mr Mathunjwa said Amcu had repeatedly denounced all the violent activity recently seen around the mines.

"As we have said in the past, Amcu denounces any violent conduct by any member, official or office bearers of the union. We have never encouraged our members to embark on any illegal or unprotected work stoppages," he said.

As investors started to fret about the impact on wider economic growth, the rand fell more than 1% against the dollar on Thursday — compounding a 3% slide on Wednesday.

Most men at the Rustenburg soccer stadium said they worked for top producer Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), which suspended operations at its four Rustenburg mines on Wednesday after they were blockaded by marchers.

They said they would not return to work until top management — including Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Amplats parent company Anglo American — came to hear them out and introduced a basic pay hike to R16,070 a month.

"She must come to the workers," a 32-year-old worker called Kasigo said. "If they don’t come, we won’t work."

Gaddafi Ndoda, who described himself as a member of a newly formed workers’ committee, said: "To us, R12,500 is just a basic salary," referring to the amount raised as a demand among many mineworkers over the past weeks.

"Anglo is the highest-paying mine in the country, so our demand is different from other mineworkers," Mr Ndoda said.

He also said they wanted "nothing to do" with Amplats’s mageu beverage, and wanted their refreshment allowance to be R30 a day.

On Wednesday workers there complained about the quality of the mageu, an energy drink made from fermented grains.

He said currently workers were not entitled to safety or transport allowances.

"We want our transport allowance to be R60 daily and (our) safety allowance to be R1,500."

They also wanted the increase in their living-out allowance to be R2,000 — up from R1,700.

Neither Amplats nor Anglo American made any immediate comment.

The world’s fourth-biggest gold producer, Gold Fields, said NUM officials came under attack when they tried to address wildcat strikers at its KDC West mine near Johannesburg, where 15,000 mineworkers downed tools last week.

Shares in Amplats fell as much 1.8% in early trade on Thursday, on top of a 4% decline on Wednesday. The price of platinum held steady near the five-month high it hit following Wednesday’s shut-downs at Amplats.

Reuters and Sapa