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Lonmin mine worker shot dead as tensions run high on platinum belt

Jon Yeomans
mine workers - Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

A mineworker for London-listed Lonmin has been shot dead in an attack in South Africa, in the latest episode of simmering unease in the country’s platinum belt.

The branch chairman of the National Union of Mineworkers at the Eastern Platinum mine in Marikana was shot at his home on Thursday evening, dying later at a nearby clinic. His wife was also shot but is expected to recover.

A NUM spokesman said the union “appeals to the law enforcement agencies to hunt down the perpetrators and arrest them”, adding that it was the latest in a series of attacks on members, some of which have gone unreported.

Tensions have been running high between the NUM and its rival union the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which have long competed to recruit workers in the labour-intensive platinum mines of the Rustenberg region, to the north west of Johannesburg.

An NUM member who had been a member of a rival union was reportedly killed last year, while a trial of three men accused of killing Amcu members was postponed last month.

Thirty four workers were shot dead on August 16, 2012

The Amcu said it reacted with “shock and outrage” at news of the latest death. Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the union, said: “We condemn in the strongest terms attacks on workers, regardless of their affiliation.”

A spokesman for Lonmin said the company was “deeply saddened” but unable to comment further while police were investigating.

Lonmin is set to delist from the London market after accepting a £285m takeover offer from South African gold miner Sibanye-Stillwater last month. The company has seen its market capitalisation collapse in recent years after being hit by soaring costs at its mines and falling prices for platinum, used in catalytic converters in cars.

The mining group shed 5,000 workers in 2016 but still has a workforce of more than 30,000. The company has struggled to recover from the Marikana massacre in 2012, when 34 striking workers were shot dead in a single day in clashes with the police.

Lonmin’s woes underline the challenges facing mining groups operating in South Africa, which, in addition to labour unrest, have had to contend with government proposals to introduce a new mining charter that could raise taxes and impose onerous new rules on recruitment.

Other London-listed companies with a large exposure to South Africa include Anglo American, which has sold off some of its platinum mines and attempted to automate production at its remaining sites. Glencore also has large coal mines in the country and South32 owns coal, manganese and alumina assets.

John Meyer, analyst at SP Angel, said there had been a “very strong conflict of interest” between the NUM and Amcu over the years. But he suggested the recent appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa – a former secretary of the NUM – as president of the ruling AMC party could prove a turning point.

“If Ramaphosa becomes president of South Africa, it will be transformational for South African mining and it will be very helpful for the NUM in maintaining its position as the leading mining union,” he said.