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South Africa
Labour | Economy - Development

South African gold miners down tools

afrol News, 16 July - Thousands of South African miners went on a one-day strike in three provinces today, to protest hiking electricity, food and fuels costs.

According to National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the strike affected mines in Free State province, which produces around 30 percent of SA's gold output, as well as Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces.

NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told media that in Free State, there was a total shutdown, with other provinces picking up as the day went on.

The stay away organised by Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in three of SA's nine provinces, is said to be part of a wider programme of industrial action.

Strikes are reportedly planned in four other provinces on 23 July, which should culminate in a national strike on 6 August, this year.

"We want to send a very strong message that the poor are part of this society which puts electricity, food and everything beyond its reach," said NUM general-secretary Frans Baleni.

Rising costs of food and fuel, inflation and subsequent interest rates hikes have put pressure on country's poor, the union stated.

Daniel Thole of Gold Fields, whose giant Beatrix mine is situated in Free State, said two of its shafts were operating with 10 percent staff attendance, and one with 90 percent attendance.

"NUM applied for a one-day political protest action at our mine. There are some non-NUM members at work. Anyone with a mine in Free State will be affected, it's quite widespread," Mr Thole noted.

The downing of tools has halted operations in mines owned by Goldfields Ltd, and Harmony Gold Mining Companies.

A spokesperson for Harmony Gold Mining Co. Amelia Soares said group's operations in the Free State were "extensively affected".

Harmony's Virginia operations, which had been shut down by a safety strike yesterday closed for a second day running, with losses estimated at between 30-35 kg of gold per day.

Ms Soares said output at other mines in province, including Target, Bambanani and Tshepong had been hit by around 50 percent absenteeism, and this may have disrupted normal production.

She said Evander mine in Mpumalanga, which normally produces 20 kg of gold daily, was not producing after 3,800 workers downed tools in protest.

The 320,000-strong membership NUM is said to have vowed to take part in series of rolling strikes called by COSATU this month, to protest against a jump in inflation.

The stay way is said to have however not affected coal diamond mines spread across the country.

World top diamond producer, De Beers, said there was only "very minimal" impact at its underground Finch mine, where some of workers also reportedly downed tools.

COSATU called strike after SA's energy regulator last month allowed state-owned Eskom Holdings Ltd. to raise electricity prices by 27.5 percent to help fund its US$ 44 billion expansion. The utility, which provides 95 percent of country's power, cut electricity to mines and smelters for five days in January because of shortages.

Union says increased charges and power shortages will cause job losses in a country where 23 percent of workforce in unemployed, and is thus pressing President Thabo Mbeki's government to take action.

COSATU, whose affiliate unions have about 1.8 million members, has a formal alliance with ruling African National Congress (ANC). SA was recently overtaken by China as world's largest producer of gold.

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