Two striking miners have been killed by security guards at a Toronto-based company’s coal mine in South Africa, local reports say.
The deaths, confirmed by the company Thursday, are the latest in a year of sporadic violence that has killed more than 60 people at mines across South Africa, including 34 who were killed by police at the Marikana platinum mine in August.
In the clash on Wednesday, about 100 striking workers tried to storm a locked mine-explosives armoury at a coal mine owned by Toronto-based Forbes & Manhattan Coal, but were dispersed by security guards, police said.
“It is further alleged that the security officers chased some of the workers into an informal settlement near the mine and shots were fired, injuring two men,” police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said in a statement.
He said the two men died from their injuries in hospital, and police are investigating two counts of murder. The company confirmed Thursday that two of its employees were killed in the clash.
The company said it has suspended operations at its Magdalena and Aviemore underground coal mines in South Africa, where strikes have been continuing since Oct. 17.
“In order to ensure the safety of all our employees and to safeguard our assets, we have taken a decision to suspend all operations until such time as deemed safe and appropriate by management and the board,” Forbes Coal president Stephan Theron said.
Local media reports, quoting an official of the mine’s security company, said some of the striking miners were carrying guns and the two deaths occurred in an exchange of gunfire when the workers repeatedly tried to storm the armoury.
Another clash was reported Wednesday at the company’s nearby processing plant, with police reportedly using tear gas to disperse the striking miners.
The striking workers have been seeking an increase of about $350 a month for the lowest-paid workers, although they later reduced their demand to between $175 and $230 a month. Union officials said the company is offering an increase of $46 a month for the lowest-paid workers, whose current salary is about $440 a month.
The company, which reported $29-million in revenue for the 14 months ending in February this year, is said to be the fourth-biggest coal company in South Africa by market capitalization.
The company has been expanding in South Africa recently. It announced in September that it will pay $52.3-million to Rio Tinto for majority stakes in an operating coal mine and undeveloped anthracite deposit in South Africa.
The recent wave of strikes and violence across South Africa has led to mine shutdowns and the dismissal of more than 30,000 workers. The strikes have caused heavy damage to the country’s economy. New figures on Wednesday showed a sharp widening of South Africa’s trade deficit, reaching $1.6-billion, largely due to a drop in exports of metals and other mining products.