Labor unrest in South Africa’s platinum belt spread on Wednesday, raising concerns that anger over low wages and poor living conditions could generate fresh violence after 34 striking miners were shot dead by police last week.
The strike that started last week at Lonmin’s Marikana mine has driven up platinum prices and stoked worries about investing in Africa’s biggest economy, where chronic unemployment and income disparities threaten social stability.
At Marikana, a somber-looking President Jacob Zuma stood under a parasol held by an aide to address around 2,000 subdued miners. In the Xhosa and Zulu languages, he said there was no need for workers to die in a Labor dispute.
“This is painful to all of us. It is not acceptable for people to die where talks can be held. But I do feel your pain and have come personally to express that,” he said.
The world’s top platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, said on Wednesday it had received a demand for a pay increase from its South African workers, while Royal Bafokeng Platinum said a Labor action by about 500 miners interrupted work at a shaft at its Rasimone mine.
The price of platinum leapt to its highest since early May, driven by concern about supply from South Africa, which holds 80 percent of the known reserves of the metal, used in jewelry and for catalytic converters in cars.
Spot platinum rose by as much as 1.5 percent to touch $1,524.50 an ounce, trading at $1,518.75 by 9.49 p.m. EDT.
Ten people had been killed last week before police opened fire on striking miners on Thursday, shooting dead another 34 in the worst such bloodshed since the end of apartheid white-minority rule in 1994.
The Labor troubles were touched off by a violent turf war between Labor unions at the Marikana mine. Similar rumblings have emerged at other mines.