CARLTONVILLE, South Africa (Reuters) - Two thousand striking miners evicted from company housing at a Gold Fields mine in South Africa occupied a nearby hill on Tuesday in scenes disturbingly reminiscent of the build-up to a mass police shooting at a platinum mine in August.
The protesting workers at Gold Fields’ KDC West mine, 50 kms (30 miles) west of Johannesburg, said they would not leave the rocky outcrop near the mine entrance until they received a hefty pay increase to 12,500 rand ($1,500) a month.
As with a wildcat strike in August at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, many of the Gold Fields employees were armed with sticks, but had few belongings beyond the ragged clothes they were wearing.
At Marikana, 3,000 strikers occupied a hillock near the mine for five days before police moved in to remove them by force on August 16.
The police operation, in which 34 miners were shot and killed, was the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994 and spurred a wave of industrial unrest that has spread across the platinum and gold mining sectors.
The ruling African National Congress and President Jacob Zuma have attracted criticism for their handling of the mines unrest, with political opponents and analysts saying they have not moved quickly enough to address and solve workers’ grievances.
Fifteen thousand KDC West gold miners downed tools on September 10, hitting production at the world’s fourth biggest bullion producer. Gold Fields bosses have refused to negotiate with them.
On Tuesday, company security officers evicted thousands of strikers from company hostels, yet the miners - faced with sleeping rough on the hill - refused to back down.
“We want 12,500 (rand). We are not going back. We’ll stay here until the management comes here and talks to us,” 25-year-old miner Thabane Mohale told Reuters as he started to climb the hill, armed with a stick.
There was no sign of the police near the hill.
Gold Fields spokesman Sven Lunsche said about 5,500 workers were housed at KDC West but many had not left yet and the company was seeking a court order to complete the evictions.
“Law and order was breaking down in the hostels,” Lunsche said. “They were used as a base to plan and coordinate unlawful and life threatening activities in support of the illegal strike.”
As many as 75,000 miners, or 15 percent of the mining industry’s total workforce in South Africa, are now on illegal strikes, threatening already shaky growth in Africa’s biggest economy.
Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal Fletcher