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12,000 Miners Fired as South African Strikes Intensify

Death toll reaches 48 as the impact of the strike cripples economy

Common Dreams staff

Striking platinum miners march near the Anglo-American Platinum mine on October 5, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The world's top producer of metal announced today the firing of 12,000 striking workers in South Africa. The Anglo American Platinum (Amplants) mine has been threatening the workers for weeks, claiming that the 20,000 striking miners are engaging in an "illegal" strike.

Reuters reports that the strikers responded on Friday by protesting in a shanty town near the Amplants mine--located city of Rustenburg, 70 miles northwest of Johannesburg--by barricading streets with rocks and burning tires "watched by a contingent of more than 30 riot police backed by armored vehicles."

Strike leader Gaddafi Mdoda told the Associated Press that the miners would intensify their three-week-long strike, even if they were no longer bona fide employees of Amplats. The striking miners are seeking a raise a salary of $500 per month to $2,000.

These sacks come the day after a worker's body was found near one of the mines. Mdoda said that "the body belonged to another striker who had died from rubber-coated bullets shot to disperse the protesters on Thursday night." Neither police nor mine workers have commented on the death, which is the 48th casualty since the strikes began.

In what is being called the "worst labor unrest since end of apartheid," over 75,000 South African workers, or 15 per cent of the nation's work force, are on strike throughout the country.

The workers have found strength in numbers and have been buoyed by other successes. As reported by Common Dreams, in August a strike at platinum mine Marikana led to violence that shocked the nation when police killed 34 miners wounding more than 70 others. In the wake of that massacre, the Marikana strikers won a successful pay increase of 22 percent and the incident is now the subject of an official inquiry.

South African President Jacob Zuma has been facing intense pressure and criticism, both in response to the extreme violence against workers and also to settle the disputes that are crippling industry nationwide. The two months of unrest has spread from mines to other areas of the economy. A two week freeze by 20,000 truckers has resulted in Shell announcing on Friday that they could no longer honor fuel delivery contracts around Johannesburg. As reported by Reuters, the oil giant explains that "there is fuel available across the country…but the challenge is delivering it safely to our retail sites."

Marching against a gold mine in another striking outpost, Buti Manamela, the president of the Young Communist League chants: “Divided we fall, united we stand. ... We can never achieve Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation if we are unequal in terms of wages.”

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