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Zuma vows action as strikes cripple South African platinum giants

Miners gather for a march in Rustenburg in South Africa's North West Province, September 13, 2012.


Thousands of miners protesting for huge pay hikes vowed Thursday to bring South Africa's key mining sector to its knees as strikes paralyzed two of the world's major platinum giants.

President Jacob Zuma warned his government would soon act to rein in the growing unrest gripping the sector, as Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world's top platinum producer, remained shuttered for a second day after the company suspended operations over security concerns.

Lonmin PLC, the world's number three platinum producer, said slightly over one per cent of workers at its Marikana mine showed up Thursday as a wildcat strike that has killed 45 people there crept into its second month.

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Mr. Zuma told lawmakers he had directed relevant ministers "to discuss how do we deal with this issue and very, very soon we will be able to let the public know because it can no longer be accepted."

It was Mr. Zuma's first official comment since the labour troubles spread to Amplats, which shut down five mines Wednesday along the platinum belt near the northwest town of Rustenburg, and Gold Fields, where 15,000 workers have been striking since Sunday.

The labour unrest has snowballed since a wildcat strike hit London-listed Lonmin's Marikana operation last month and police there gunned down 34 people on August 16.

Around 5,000 workers at Amplats gathered Thursday at a stadium where they were addressed by activists.

"By the evening of Sunday all the mining industries in Rustenburg will be on its knees," said Mametlwe Sebei, a non-Amplats employee and member of the Democratic Socialist Movement political party, who warned protesters would march on the seat of government in Pretoria.

Reacting to activists who have sought to inflame tensions in the sector, Mr. Zuma said there were "people of some description who are going there to instigate miners.

"It cannot be accepted, and therefore we are looking into that. We are going to be acting very soon." Firebrand Julius Malema, who has been expelled from the president's ruling African National Congress (ANC), has urged miners to strike every month and render mines "ungovernable" until their demands are met.

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Amplats workers are demanding 12,500 rand ($1,487 U.S.), the same as their Lonmin colleagues.

The company, which had earlier denied its employees were on strike – saying that it suspended production after workers were intimidated with the threat of violence – confirmed Thursday that some of its workers took part in the rally.

The labour strife at Amplats – which produces around 40 per cent of global platinum output – is the latest to hit South Africa's vital mining industry.

Amplats management said it had received a memorandum from a small group of workers and management was reviewing it.

The company has said it will only reopen when operations can safely resume.

"It's a fluid situation, we're trying to manage it as best we can," Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole told AFP.

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Including its non-platinum operations, Anglo American employs 76,000 people in South Africa, making it the single largest private-sector employer.

Mediated talks to break the deadlock at Lonmin meanwhile resumed Thursday with mine management, unions and worker delegations.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, a radical breakaway from the powerful National Union of Mineworkers, urged Mr. Zuma to weigh in to end the crisis in the sector, which accounts for about a fifth of South Africa's gross domestic product.

It described the stand-off as "an emergency situation where nobody seems to be winning the battle."

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