Anglo Platinum Halts Mines on S. Africa Labor Unrest

Anglo American Platinum Ltd., the largest producer of the metal, halted its Rustenburg operations as labor turmoil in South Africa’s mining industry disrupted gold and platinum mines.

“In light of the current volatile situation in the Rustenburg area, where our employees, who want to go to work, are being prevented from doing so and are being intimidated by the threat of violence, Anglo American Platinum has decided to suspend its operations” with immediate effect, Chief Executive Officer Chris Griffith said today in a statement. The halt will last until work can safely resume, he said.

The company diverted about 3,000 employees from its mines in the area to an undisclosed “neutral place” for their safety, Mpumi Sithole, a spokeswoman for the Johannesburg-based company known as Amplats, said by mobile phone. They were released at noon after being briefed by management, she said.

The intimidation of Amplats workers is the latest escalation of unrest in the South African mining industry amid unlawful work stoppages at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine and Gold Fields Ltd.’s KDC West shaft. About 43,000 people are either on strike at these three companies or staying away from work. Platinum prices rose to a five-month high. The country produces about 75 percent of the world’s platinum, used in pollution-reducing devices and jewelry.

Great Threat

Amplats’s Rustenburg operations include the Khuseleka, Thembelani, Khomanani, Siphumelele and Bathopele mines, which produced 288,100 platinum equivalent ounces in the first half of the year, or about one quarter of the company’s total output, according to its website.

“There is a great threat” that illegal strike action could break out at Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd.’s Rustenburg operation, the biggest platinum mine in the world, National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said by mobile phone. The mine was “fairly quiet,” Bob Gilmour, a spokesman for the second-biggest platinum producer, said by phone from Johannesburg.

Amplats fell as much as 4.8 percent in Johannesburg trading, the biggest intraday drop since July 19, and closed 4.1 percent lower at 417.50 rand. Platinum for October delivery advanced for an eighth day in the longest winning streak since August 2011. The metal gained as much as 3.3 percent to $1,659.50 an ounce, the highest price since April 3.

Confirmed Death

The protests at Amplats began last night, and people blocked access to four of the company’s shafts, police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said by mobile phone.

The death toll in violence associated with the Lonmin strike rose to 45 after a body was found yesterday in a field near where police shot and killed 34 protesters Aug. 16. Police believed the latest fatality to be a rock driller from the Eastern Cape, which has yet to be confirmed, Ngubane said. Ten others, including two police officers, died during protests the week before police opened fire on protesters. Talks to end the strike at Marikana resume tomorrow, according to mediators.

At Gold Fields’ KDC West operation, about 85 percent of 12,500 workers expected in the shafts were absent, spokesman Sven Lunsche said by phone from Johannesburg, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north east of the mine. The illegal strike began Sept. 9, with workers demanding the same 12,500 rand ($1,500) minimum wage Lonmin strikers have sought.

Biggest Risk

The unrest may spread to other Gold Fields operations in South Africa, NUM’s Seshoka said by phone. “The biggest risk at the moment remains Beatrix,” located in the Free State province, he said.

Julius Malema, the expelled youth leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, addressed workers at KDC West yesterday, calling for miners around the country to strike for five days every month until bosses meet their demands for higher wages.

Malema’s comments were “hogwash,” and put thousands of workers’ jobs at risk, Seshoka said in an e-mailed statement.

Security guards fired teargas at protesters at the KDC mine today after they attempted to stop a train, the South African Press Association reported.

“This atmosphere is also only set to get more intense as we move towards December,” when the ANC will hold its leadership election conference, Nomura International Plc said in a report today. The probability of a national mining strike is low, but cannot be ruled out, it said.

Amplats Chairwoman Cynthia Carroll said the company’s objective is to safely return to production as soon as possible. “Our Rustenburg operations are already under considerable economic pressure and the longer it is necessary to continue this suspension, the greater the risk to their long-term viability,” she said in a statement.

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