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TheStreet Open House

South Africa Labor Strikes, Unrest Expand To Farms

JON GAMBRELL

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) â¿¿ Down a two-lane road, where slag heaps tower and miners' shack homes crowd against each other, the labor unrest now gripping South Africa first caught fire.

Mining companies here outside of Rustenburg, a city about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, saw workers walk off the job and continue to demand higher wages, even after violence during six weeks of strikes and a mass police shooting at one mine killed 46 people. The strikes recently spread to agriculture, South Africa's other major economic engine, as day laborers burned farms and fought with police Wednesday in violence that left at least one person dead and five others injured.

The unrest has shaken South Africa, a nation now free from apartheid-era laws, but not of its legacy of economic disparities between whites and blacks. And though the grip of the strikes appear to have loosened, the damage done to South Africa's anemic economy could last even longer.

"Even if I can take you to my house, my fridge is empty," said Gaddafi Mdoda, a labor organizer outside a shuttered mine shaft owned by Anglo American Platinum Ltd. "It's hard to survive."

The unrest began in August at the Lonmin PLC Marikana platinum mine, only a few miles down the road from Anglo American Platinum. Violence between miners and guards killed 12 people, while police later opened fire on miners and killed 34 of them. An investigation into that shooting continues.

The nation recoiled at the killings, while Lonmin ultimately gave workers raises of up to 22 percent. Those raises, as well as shock at the killings, caused other workers at mines down this road to walk off the job.

Mining drives the economy of South Africa, which remains one of the world's dominant producers of platinum, gold and chromium. Since the strikes began, world platinum prices have risen about $200 an ounce to almost $1,600 as of Wednesday trading. In September, President Jacob Zuma said the strikes already had cost the nation about 4.5 billion rand (nearly $563 million).

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