Johannesburg, South Africa — 11 September 2012 – A third of the workforce of world No. 4 bullion producer Gold Fields have downed tools in an illegal strike in South Africa in the latest labour stoppage to hit the  mining sector in Africa’s largest economy.

The striking workers at Gold Fields’ KDC West mine are demanding a minimum monthly salary of R12,500, an amount which has become a new benchmark in a spate of wage-related labour disputes across the industry, reports Miningmx.

Reuters reports that the wildcat strike action came as South African police readied for possible violence over yesterday’s back-to-work deadline for striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, where 44 people died in labour strife last month.

Gold Fields last week resolved an illegal strike by 12,000 workers at its KDC East mine which started because of rank and file discontent with the local branch of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The labour unrest has now spread to the KDC West operation with 15,000 workers going off the job and shutting down production. Gold Fields said the reasons for the latest strike were unclear at this stage. The company’s share price shed 2.75% in early trade yesterday, despite gold’s spot price holding near seven-month highs.

"At this stage the reason for the strike remains unclear but we hope to gain clarity as soon as possible," said Peter Turner, executive vice president and head of Gold Fields’ South Africa Region. “The situation on the mine has been calm and peaceful since the start of the strike and we appeal to all stakeholders to continue to act with restraint and to engage in good faith.”

In the platinum sector, there is swelling discontent against NUM among poorly-paid mineworkers, who see its leadership as out of touch and too interested in politics because of the union leadership’s close links to the ruling African National Congress (ANC).