Thousands reported for work at Lonmin’s Marikana mine ending a strike in which 46 people died, but at rival Amplats miners barricaded a street with burning tires and the firm said it had been badly hit by a walkout to demand higher pay.
A police helicopter hovered above a shanty town near Amplats mines at Rustenburg, 100 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, and armed officers backed by armored vehicles and water cannon were on stand-by.
There were no reports of clashes but Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, the world’s top producer of the precious metal, reported only one in five of its workers had turned up at its Rustenberg mines, Reuters reports.
It was clear the wave of wildcat strikes in the sector had not ended with the signing this week of a pay deal at smaller platinum producer Lonmin.
The unrest, with roots in a bloody turf war between an upstart union and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), has sent world platinum prices soaring.
The police shooting of 34 Lonmin strikers on August 16 – the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994 – also piled pressure on President Jacob Zuma, who was forced to call in the army to back up stretched police.
And economists say the precedent set by the big Lonmin pay rises could ripple through an economy already saddled with uncompetitive labor costs, stoking inflation and curbing the central bank’s ability to cut interest rates to boost sputtering growth.
“The company continues to be disappointed with the low turnout rate at four of its Rustenburg mines which are currently reporting less than 20 percent attendance,” Amplats said in a statement.
It said its Rustenburg “process operations” had resumed full production but the mood among strikers was uncompromising.
“We’ll buy 20 liters of petrol and if police get violent, we’ll make petrol bombs and throw them at them,” said Lawrence Mudise, an Amplats rock driller, holding a sign demanding 16,700 rand ($2,000) a month, a hefty premium on his current salary.
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a crowd of men carrying spears and machetes in a squatter camp near the site on Wednesday.
“We’ll not go to work until we get what we want. Our kids have been shot at, our families have been terrorized and brutalized, but we are not going back to work,” one miner, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters.
A few kilometers away at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, thousands of workers reported for their first shift since early August, ending one of the bloodiest bouts of industrial action in the 18 years since the end of white-minority rule.
Many shouted “We are reporting for work” in Fanagalo, a pidgin mix of Zulu, English and other African languages.
The miners were in jubilant mood after securing wage rises of up to 22 percent. “I feel very happy that I can go back to work now,” said Nqukwe Sabulelo, a rock-driller at the mine. “I’m going to live well now.”
The hefty wage settlement has stirred up trouble in the gold sector, with some 15,000 miners at the KDC West operation of Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest bullion producer, holding an illegal strike.
The Gold Fields protest is fuelled by discontent with the local leadership of the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and their stance has been given fresh impetus by the Lonmin settlement.
Gold Fields said this week it would not entertain demands for a minimum wage of 12,500 rand despite losing 1,400 ounces a day – close to 15 percent of group production.
NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni said the union, a key political ally of the ruling African National Congress, was trying to help.
The stand-off threatens the NUM-dominated collective wage-bargaining that has typified South African industrial relations since apartheid.
“We are trying to narrow the demands and get them to go back while we negotiate,” Baleni told reporters.
Part of the African National Congress-led ruling alliance, the country’s biggest group of unions this week acknowledged the challenge posed by the rise of the militant AMCU union and the need for change.
“The labor movement needs to renew itself,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
“There is the danger of finding ourselves … outflanked by the new independent unions which are emerging as a result of dissatisfaction from the shop floor.”