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27 Oct, 2012 18:19

S. African police fire stun grenades, rubber bullets as unions clash

S. African police fire stun grenades, rubber bullets as unions clash

South African police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse striking miners who tried to foil a rally of the nation’s largest union. The miners say the union reached an unfavorable deal with Amplants mine without their consent.

The Anglo American Platinum mine in Rustenburg has announced an agreement to reinstate 12,000 miners fired earlier this month for staging illegal strikes and failing to appear at a disciplinary hearing. The credit for the deal was taken by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). "[Amplants] agreed to reinstate all the dismissed workers on the provision that they return to work by Tuesday," the NUM announced Saturday, a day after the breakthrough in talks.But the Amplants workers said they were neither aware of nor happy with the deal."We know nothing about it. We were not consulted, we only heard about it on the radio," Ampants miner Reuben Lerebolo told AFP.

Clashes outside a stadium in Rustenburg broke out after police cleared around 300 people from the area. Protesters armed with sticks and stones held posters reading "NUM we are tired of you." The demonstrators blocked the stadium’s entrance with vans and set T-shirts bearing the union’s emblem on fire.  The employees of the world’s largest producer of platinum say they cannot go back to work until their demands are met, including a monthly wage hike to 6,000 rand (about $1,800). Amplats in return offered a one-off "hardship allowance" of 2,000 rand (about $230) and the same working conditions as before, provided they return to work by Tuesday.

Saturday’s clashes turn a new page in the ongoing conflict between various union factions in the country. The strife itself is slowly replacing the wildcat strikes that have gripped South Africa since August. The miners have steadily grown dissatisfied with the way the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), and its powerful affiliate NUM represent their interests. Striking South Africans even started a fresh union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), to take matters into their own hands.  In Rustenburg, AMCU members tried to scuttle COSATU’s rally and even beat up several people wearing COSATU T-shirts. South Africa’s largest labor organization wanted to stage a rally Saturday in a bid to reclaim the northwestern area from “the forces of counter-revolution" after workers snubbed NUM in the recent strikes.

The South African strikes have begun to lose steam despite the recent clashes. At their peak, some 80,000 miners, representing about 16 percent of the mining workforce were striking around the country. If the Amplats miners were return to work on Tuesday, it would most likely put an end to labor unrest in the country.