Rustenburg, South Africa — 14 September 2012 – Striking South African platinum miners have delivered much higher pay demands and threatened to spread industrial action further, deepening a crisis that is becoming the biggest threat to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) since the end of apartheid.

In the face of the spiralling labour unrest in Africa’s biggest economy, President Jacob Zuma insists that the government will crack down on anybody stirring up trouble, reports Reuters.

“It is not just the miners striking. It also some people of some description who are going there to instigate miners,” said Zuma, who faces an ANC leadership election in December. “We are going to be acting very soon,” he told parliament in Cape Town.

What began as an industrial dispute has evolved into a grass-roots rebellion by blacks who have seen little improvement in their lives since white minority rule ended 18 years ago.

At a soccer stadium in the heart of the platinum belt, thousands of workers heard a call from one protest leader for a national strike to “bring the mining companies to their knees.”

“On Sunday, we are starting with a general strike here in Rustenburg,” Mametlwe Sebei, from a fringe Marxist political party, told the workers near the town which lies 100 km north-west of Johannesburg. He drew mild applause from the crowd, armed with sticks and machetes, and it was unclear if the strike call would be heeded.

Despite the weapons, the strikers insisted their push for a sharp hike in wages was peaceful “’ even after the August 16 police shooting of 34 protesters at Lonmin’s nearby Marikana platinum mine. “There should be no blood,” one placard read.

As investors started to fret about the impact on wider economic growth, the rand fell more than 1% against the dollar, compounding a 3% slide on Wednesday. Mining accounts for 6% of South Africa’s output.

Most men at the soccer stadium said they worked for top producer Anglo American Platinum, commonly known as Amplats, which suspended operations at its four Rustenburg mines on Wednesday after they were blockaded by marchers.

A group of more than 100 chanting strikers, many waving sticks and “knobkerrie” clubs, accompanied protest leaders as they delivered a written memorandum laying out their demands to the Amplats management offices near the Bleskop stadium.

The demands were for an increase of basic pay and allowances to R16,000 (US$1,900) a month “’ nearly three times their current salary and more than double per capita GDP in the continent’s richest country.

As the stick-waving miners accompanied their leaders back to the stadium, they chanted: “We won’t give up!”

They said they would not return to work until top management “’ including Cynthia Carroll, chief executive of Amplats’ parent company Anglo American “’ came to hear them out. “She must come to the workers,” a 32-year-old called Kasigo told Reuters. “If they don’t come, we won’t work.”

Amplats confirmed that it had received the demands and was monitoring the situation closely.

The platinum price held steady yesterday near the 5-month high it hit following the Amplats shut-downs. Amplats shares fell as much 1.8% in early trade before bouncing to be up 1.3% by 1400 GMT.

Source: Reuters Africa. For more information, click here.