Last updated: February 18, 2013 6:25 pm

Violence breaks out at South African mine

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Security guards at a mine operated by Anglo American Platinum fired rubber bullets to break up a confrontation between rival union members during which 12 people were injured.

Amplats, which last year endured a six-week long strike characterised by violence and intimidation, said on Monday that there were no deaths and none of the injuries were life-threatening.

“Nine employees were injured when rubber bullets were fired by Anglo American Platinum security personnel, and three security staff were injured during this incident,” the company told the Financial Times. “All 12 injured employees received medical attention for non-life threatening injuries.”

However, Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, a local police spokesman, said 13 people were injured and three were in a critical condition. He said a group of about 1,000 allegedly attacked four National Union of Mineworkers members in a union office.

The clashes at the Siphumelele mine in Rustenburg, in northwest South Africa, appeared to have been triggered by a dispute between representatives of the NUM, the dominant force in the industry for three decades, and supporters of the newer, more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), police said.

Amcu has made rapid inroads into the platinum sector in recent months and the rivalry between it and the NUM exacerbated tensions during the wave of wildcat strikes that spread across the platinum and gold sectors last year, costing the industry billions of rand in lost production.

That unrest began in August when workers at Lonmin, the London-listed miner, went on strike and escalated after police shot and killed 34 protesters in Marikana. In total about 50 people were killed in strike-related violence.

South Africa: shootings increase heat on Amplats

Beyond brics

With relations between the world’s largest platinum miner, its workforce and the South African government already strained, the shooting will have significant repercussions

Industry officials have warned of the risk of further unrest this year as the climate remains volatile with gold, platinum and gold companies preparing for two-yearly wage negotiations this year.

Amcu is expected to sit at the negotiating table in both the gold and platinum talks for the first time, amid concerns that rival unions could become more radical in their demands as they fight for membership.

Amplats, part of Anglo American, is still recovering from last year’s unrest, and recently announced drastic restructuring plans that include the closure of two mines in the Rustenburg area and could threaten up to 14,000 jobs.

Workers briefly went on strike after the announcement was made, and both the government and the ruling African National Congress reacted angrily to the company’s proposals.

Amplats insists the restructuring – the result of a year-long review of its business – is necessary to ensure the company’s viability as platinum producers struggle with rising costs and a subdued price environment. It is engaged in a consultation process with government departments, unions and workers over its plans.

Earlier this month, Amplats reported an operating loss of R6.3bn ($705m) for the year, after making a R7.97bn profit in 2011.

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