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South Africa: Underground mine occupation

Two miners look on after they resurfaced, because of medical conditions, from the underground protest at the Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine near Rustenburg on Dec 19, 2023.   -  
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PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP or licensors

South Africa

More than 2,000 workers occupy a platinum mine in South Africa for the second day in a row on Tuesday, causing concern among families as the company tries to push for an end to one of the country's biggest mine labour movements in years.

Impala Platinum Holdings, also known as Implats, claimed that 63 of the 2,205 miners who began protesting on Monday had returned to the surface overnight, in difficult conditions. Ambulances were seen destined for some of them.

The company described the underground strike in two different shafts as illegal and warned that it would deal decisively with employees who engage in illegal conduct and criminal acts.

All operations at the Bafokeng mine, some 160 km northwest of Johannesburg, have been suspended and talks are underway with miners and their unions.

The miners say they are demanding bonuses and pension payments. Some of them claim to have been suspended before the start of their movement for holding unauthorized union meetings.

Representatives of the National union of mineworkers "spoke with the workers last night and have begun relaying their concerns to management", according to a company spokesman.

"We hope to respond today through the NUM and agree a process to bring all workers back to the surface and resolve the issues through normal constructive engagement," he added.

Worried families

Dozens of miners and their families waited on Tuesday at the entrance to the mine, which was bought this year by Implats and employs a total of some 10,000 miners.

Mzimase Bandli, 51, said he had come to the surface because of the lack of food and water.

"I have an intense headache and I haven't eaten. I was freezing to death down there", he confided, a few minutes after coming up for air.

According to the company, food has been brought down. But the families fear the conditions there.

"We don't know if they've eaten, some of them have to take medicine," said Nokwanda Nabambela, 39, worried about her husband, who has worked in the mine for six years.

South Africa is experiencing a growing number of wildcat strikes by miners occupying mines and blocking production.

"Underground protest movements and similar illegal actions (...) have become more frequent in recent months and are causing concern and disruption to the mining industry," Implats lamented.

More than 100 gold miners spent nearly three days underground in Springs, near Johannesburg, in October, against a backdrop of rivalry between unions.

This month, a further 440 miners protested at another gold mine, while 250 platinum workers occupied a shaft for three days to demand better wages.

The mining industry employs hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa, the world's leading platinum exporter and a major exporter of gold, diamonds, coal and other raw materials.

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