Anglo Platinum Protest Leads to Death at South African Mine

Feb 07, 2014 11:20 am ET

(Updates with police investigation in third paragraph.)

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- South African police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse striking workers at an Anglo American Platinum Ltd. mine in violent protests that left one person dead.

A shop steward for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union was “shot by police,” Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the labor group that initiated the strike, said by phone. He said the union will comment further in a statement.

Police investigating smoke at a settlement next to the mine were attacked and pelted with stones, Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the police in Limpopo, said by phone. It hasn’t yet been determined whether the victim was an employee of the mine and the cause of the death is being investigated, he said.

The violence was at the Union mine, near the town of Northam in the country’s northwest, Anglo American Platinum, the biggest producer of the metal, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Our medical teams are on the scene to attend to any injuries,” it said.

A stoppage by more than 70,000 members of the AMCU, the dominant labor group at the world’s three biggest platinum producers, has disrupted operations since Jan. 23. South Africa accounts for about 70 percent of global output of the metal, used in jewelry and catalytic converters for vehicles.

Talks between companies and the AMCU were suspended Feb. 5 without a settlement. Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin Plc have lost $180 million in sales since the strike started, they said this week.

The fatality is the first associated with the labor action after earlier violent outbreaks in the week.

Water Cannon

Police fired rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse a crowd of 3,000 at Amplats’ Khuseleka mine on Feb. 4. The group had “the intention of not letting any mineworker go to work,” said Thulani Ngubane, a spokesman for the South African Police Service in the North West province.

Impala has sent workers who have been reporting for their shifts on paid leave in response to the strike, Johan Theron, a spokesman, said Feb. 3. Employees attempting to report for duty have been blocked, prompting police intervention, he said.

The AMCU has displaced the National Union of Mineworkers, Mathunjwa’s former union, as the dominant labor group at South Africa’s biggest platinum mines by demanding bigger pay gains.

Its membership and influence expanded after the deaths of at least 44 people, including 34 killed by police in a single day, during protests at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August 2012.

--Editors: Alex Devine, John Viljoen