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Amplats Asks Court to Hold Union in Contempt for Violence

Anglo American Platinum Ltd. asked a South African judge to hold the biggest union at its mines in contempt, saying it ignored an order to stop using violence in an ongoing strike.

The application to the Johannesburg Labour Court today includes Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union President Joseph Mathunjwa and Treasurer Jimmy Gama, said Mpumi Sithole, a spokeswoman for Amplats, as the miner is known. The matter will return to court on March 5, she said in an e-mailed reply to questions.

More than 70,000 workers downed tools Jan. 23, demanding the world’s three biggest platinum producers double salaries for the lowest-paid staff. A worker was set alight yesterday on his way to an Amplats mine, where an AMCU official was shot dead this month. At least four non-striking workers at a Lonmin Plc mine were assaulted last week.

“All parties will have to find an urgent solution because it is a reality that this strike is hurting the economy,” Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said today at a press conference in Brakpan, 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of Johannesburg. “We continue to urge the parties to find common ground and settle.”

Shabangu denied an accusation by AMCU’s Mathunjwa that she advised Amplats to sue the union. “If companies decide to sue them, how do I stop them?” she said. “How do I stop the unions to say don’t strike? It’s within their rights.”

Panga Wounds

Amplats and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. were granted an order on Jan. 24 against the AMCU, compelling the union’s members to abide by picketing rules and refrain from using violence. Lonmin was granted a similar request on Feb. 14.

“Management is lying,” said Linga Matshini, a union official at Amplats’s Komanani mine who attended the court proceedings today. “No one has intimidated anyone at the shafts. It has all been peaceful.”

An employee was set alight on his way to work at Amplats’s Union mine, South African Police Service spokesman Thulani Ngubane said by phone. The man, a member of AMCU rival the National Union of Mineworkers, was discharged from hospital today after being treated for burns and wounds from a panga, a kind of machete, union spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu said.

“The situation is becoming very dangerous,” Mammburu said. “It is really totally unacceptable.”

Lost Sales

South Africa contributes more than 70 percent of global output of platinum, used in jewelery and catalytic converters for vehicles. Companies have lost more than 4.4 billion rand ($400 million) in sales since the start of the strike, the three producers said in a joint statement on Feb. 19. The employers have offered wage increases of as much as 9 percent.

A growing number of Impala Platinum employees have “signaled they are ready to accept the employers’ offer and return to work,” company spokesman Johan Theron said in an e-mailed response to questions today.

“Hopefully this will influence the position of the union leaders, and lead to real substantive engagements that will resolve the current impasse.”

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