JOHANNESBURG — Striking miners in South Africa clashed with police after using rocks and burning tires to block a road leading to a platinum mine, and one protester was killed, a mining company said Saturday.
The miner was fatally injured Friday as police sought to disperse protesters near Anglo American Platinum’s Union mine near Northam town, the company said. An investigation is underway.
Anglo American said the slain protester was an official with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, a labor group that is leading the stoppage by tens of thousands of workers. The strike for higher wages started Jan. 23, and there have been increasing reports of violence around platinum mines.
In another account of the deadly clash, a rival union whose members are not striking said protesters “overpowered” police and attacked miners who were working. One person died when police tried to prevent the attack, according to the National Union of Mineworkers. Local media have reported yet another version of events in which striking miners said they were set upon by police while on their way to a meeting.
Whatever the circumstances, the death of the miner was likely to escalate tensions in a labor protest that government officials have said the country can hardly afford at a time of higher operating costs. The union representing the striking miners is a breakaway faction of the National Union of Mineworkers that has become a major force at Anglo American and other big platinum-mining companies. The government has sought to mediate between the union and producers.
In other unrest, an Anglo American employee was in critical but stable condition after being assaulted by strikers while on his way to work at the Khuseleka mine near Rustenberg city earlier in the week, the company said. It said protesters have damaged at least 14 vehicles and it noted a “significant increase” in violence and intimidation.
In 2012, South African police shot and killed several dozen miners during labor unrest at a Lonmin platinum mine.
South Africa is the world’s leading producer of platinum, which is used in medical, electronic and other industries.
Separately, the death toll following an underground fire at a gold mine rose to nine after searchers found the body of the last miner who had been missing, the Harmony mining company said Friday. The miners were killed after an earthquake triggered a rockfall and a fire deep inside Harmony’s Doornkop mine, west of Johannesburg. Two other Harmony miners died in accidents at other mines in recent days.
Six of the nine miners killed at Doornkop were South African, and the three others came from Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique, according to union officials.
There had been a steady downward trend in fatalities at Harmony operations until this year, said company spokesman James Duncan. Ten died in 2013, about one-quarter of the number killed in 2004, he said.
Duncan described the 11 deaths this past week as a “complete U-turn” and said Harmony was reviewing safety procedures.