Lonmin Mine Killings Rise to Nine Including Two Policemen

Lonmin Platinum Mine Violence Kills Nine Including Two Policemen
An injured policeman is attended to after he was attacked and injured by striking Lonmin miners near Rustenburg, South Africa, Aug. 13, 2012. Photographer: Leon Nicholas-STAR Business Report/AP Photo

Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) -- At least nine people including two policemen were killed at a Lonmin Plc mine in South Africa during violence that the world’s third-largest platinum producer said may have been caused by a turf war between two unions.

Lonmin’s Marikana complex in North West province was operating with low worker attendance after yesterday’s clashes, Barnard Mokwena, the executive vice president of human capital at Johannesburg-based Lonmin, said in a phone interview from the mine today. There were no incidents of attacks overnight, he said.

Lonmin said in a statement on Aug. 12 it suspected union rivalry was behind incidents that began at its Western mine, part of the Marikana operations, after an Aug. 10 strike and protest march by rock-drill operators. The deaths come five months after Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., the world’s second-largest producer, halted operations at its Rustenberg mine in South Africa because of clashes between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mining and Construction Union.

Police are maintaining a “heavy presence” at the mine and will assess today whether to send reinforcements, Brigadier Lindela Mashigo said in a phone interview. Police Commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega visited the mine last night, he said.

Union Clashes

The AMCU has been recruiting members as it tries to break the NUM’s grip at some mines in South Africa, the producer of more than three-quarters of the world’s platinum.

Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for NUM, wasn’t immediately available when contacted on his mobile phone. AMCU is due to hold a press conference later today.

“Our members have been attacked and that cannot be said to be clashes or rivalry,” the NUM, the country’s biggest mining union, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

In the violence at Western, two security guards were killed and an employee was hacked to death on his way to work late on Aug. 12. Another worker was found dead with five gunshot wounds on the same day, while two members of the police and a suspect were killed in a protest at a hostel, Lonmin said.

Two police officers died at the hostel yesterday, another was critically injured, and three suspects were killed, Mashigo said yesterday. He wasn’t able to say why violence flared.

Platinum Price

Lonmin fell 0.3 percent to 738.50 pence in London as of 8:03 a.m. The stock has dropped 37 percent in the past year, while platinum for immediate delivery has declined 22 percent, trading at $1,397.25 an ounce.

The company last month cut output growth plans on prospects for “weak” prices. Anglo American Plc is reviewing the assets of its platinum unit, the largest producer. Aquarius Platinum Ltd., the fourth-biggest, suspended most of its mines, including Everest, where AMCU action contributed to closing the operation, Chief Executive Officer Stuart Murray said last week.

“The labor situation at platinum mines has deteriorated a lot in the past few years,” Johan de Kock, a fund manager at Momentum Asset Managers Ltd. in Cape Town, said by telephone. “Workers have become more militant as they fear losing their jobs.”

The government, concerned job losses will add to the 25.2 percent unemployment rate, is seeking ways to help the industry.

To contact the reporters on this story: Carli Cooke in Johannesburg at clourens@bloomberg.net; Sikonathi Mantshantsha in Johannesburg at sikonathim@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net