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South Africa’s president calls on miners to end their strike

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Thousands of disgruntled South African miners took part in fresh protests Thursday, threatening further strike action if their demands for wage increases are not met.

The country's political leadership has warned that any continuation of the lawlessness, killings and agitation that have characterized the strikes for the past five weeks will not be tolerated. 34 miners were killed by police at the Lonmin Marikana platinum mine on August 16.

Gwede Mantashe is the secretary general of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). He expressed concern that the situation could escalate.

'When there's lawlessness, the state must be capable to deal with that, and where there's agitation and incitement the state must deal with that. When the state is punched so hard that it becomes flatfooted, everything can break loose and I think that is where I am more worried,' he said.

Mantashe said the miners should have used 'proper trade union channels' to air their grievances. However, the first deaths occurred when police moved in to end a dispute between two rival unions at the Lonmin Marikana platinum mine, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

Calls for a national strike

On Thursday, protest leader Mametlwe Sebei told a crowd of striking miners that a general strike would begin on Sunday in Rustenberg. This followed the call for a national strike made a day earlier by Julius Malema. The former ANC Youth League leader Malema has been accused of using the unrest to further his own political ends and to mobilize opposition to President Jacob Zuma who faces an internal ANC leadership battle in December.

In an interview with DW, Sven Lunsche, Corporate Affairs Manager of gold producer Gold Fields, admitted there is a wage gap in the mining industry but said there had been substantial wage increases over the last 10 to 15 years. 'Clearly managers and engineers get a lot more but they also leave jobs quickly. They are in demand around the world. And for them to keep the critical skills, the technical skills they need, we have to pay more,' he said.

Work at Gold Fields has also been brought to a standstill by strikers who have halted the regular daily production of 1,400 ounces (40 grams) of gold.

The miners' demand for a pay increase to 12,500 rand ($1,500, 1,160 euros) per month was unrealistic, Lunsche said. 'Suddenly increasing salaries overnight of our 500,000 workers simply will make a lot of the mines close down. They are not economically viable if the increases are as suggested,' he told DW. Other factors such as increased electricity costs and the fact that mines were now being dug much deeper also needed to be taken into consideration.

Zuma speaks out

On Thursday President Zuma addressed parliament and said the 'illegal strikes and intimidation spreading through the mining industry would not help workers and would make the country worse off.'

German news agency, epd, reports that 40 miners who were temporarily arrested after the August 16 clashes plan to take the police to court on allegations of torture. Lawyer Puleng Keetse is preparing formal charges.

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DW-world

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