RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — Tens of thousands of platinum miners in South Africa went on strike Thursday, demanding higher wages in a protest that is disrupting one of the country’s major industries.
Protesters from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union sang and danced outside one mine shaft in Rustenburg, the center of major platinum operations. Some wore hard hats, and one donned a zebra mask.
Union president Joseph Mathunjwa addressed thousands of cheering workers at the Lonmin mine at Marikana, and told them the demand for a minimum monthly wage of 12,500 rand ($1,200), was less than what mine bosses spend on their pets.
He said he met with a mine executive Sunday and told him: “Please go home and make some calculation. How much do you spend per month for your dog? And then come back and we’ll talk.”
Mathunjwa chose to address strikers at the mine where police shot and killed several dozen miners during labor unrest in 2012 — shootings reminiscent of apartheid-era state brutality that shocked the nation. An inquiry into the shootings is still under way.
There were no reports of violence as the strike began. South African officials have appealed for dialogue and say they will act decisively to enforce the law.
South Africa is the world’s leading producer of the metal, which is used in medical, electronic and other industries.
Union representative Stephen Dijo acknowledged reports that the South African economy will suffer if the strike is protracted, but said many workers who go underground struggle to pay for basic needs.
One mining company, Impala Platinum, has offered to increase the minimum wage for underground workers from about $800 to $1,000 over a three-year period. It said the amount excludes benefits including medical aid and overtime payments.
The company said its offer is fair in a tough environment of rising costs and depressed global markets.
Anglo American Platinum reported low worker turnout at several mines and said production would be affected. It welcomed a government offer to help mediate talks.
“Striking is not a constructive solution if we are to return the company to a sustainable financial footing and secure existing jobs,” company CEO Chris Griffith said in a statement.