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Africa

Zuma warns of recession due to miners' strike

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has warned of a possible recession if miners continue with their strike that has entered its fifth week.

Zuma was addressing a four-day conference of South Africa's largest labor federation, Congress of South Africa's Trade Unions (COSATU) that convened in Johannesburg.

Top on the agenda, the issue of the striking miners who are demanding higher wages and better working conditions. The election of COSATU's new leaders is also up for discussion.

COSATU which has two million members, of which 300,000 are from the National Union of Miners (NUM), will also face a major debate over whether to support President Jacob Zuma at the ANC's elective conference in December. The group helped him oust Thabo Mbeki as party president in 2007.

Striking miners chant slogans outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Miners have vowed not to return to work until demands are met

But Zuma has bigger things to worry about now. His country's economy is at risk because of the five week long protests. Speaking to DW, Patrick Craven, the national spokesperson of COSATU said the President's mention of a possible recession was intended for all concerned parties in order for them to come up with a solution to the crisis that has griped the country's mining sector.

"What we hope to come up with at the end of the conference is a much better deal for the workers," said Craven.

Starting in mid August, illegal striking at the Lonmin mine, resulted in the deaths of 44 people including nearly three dozen shot dead by police in one day. Analysts have called it the worst massacre since the country gained democracy in 1994.

After weeks of negotiations and more protests, the miners are unable to agree upon an offer by either Lonmin or the Union. They have vowed not to return to work unless their demands, including a monthly pay rise from 4000 rands (400 euros, $500) to 12500 rands, are met.

The strikes which are opposed by the National Union of Mineworkers, a COSATU member, caused the shutting down of operations at Anglo American Platinum Ltd, Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd, and the Lonmin Plc, the three biggest platinum producers, and Gold Fields Ltd.

Police maintain tight security

In the wake of a planned gathering that was intended to coincide with the COSATU conference, South Africa's Police, backed by the military, have stepped up their presence in the mining town of Rustenburg where protests by miners have affected production at the Lonmin Marikana mine.

Policemen react after firing shots at protesting miners outside a South African mine in Rustenburg,REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Police remain on high alert after miners plan gathering

The latest security measure is intended to avert any possible protests as union leaders try to map out a breakthrough at the four-day conference.

DW's correspondent in South Africa, Subry Govender reported that despite the police granting permission on Monday to protest, crackdowns appear to have hardened the attitude of the striking miners who are refusing to return to work until their demands for higher wages are met.

"You can stop the gathering, that's fine, but we are not going to work we are going to keep on staying indoors to ensure we are safe," a striking miner said.

The leader of the South African Council of Churches, Bishop Jo Sekoa who has been supporting the miners ever since the strike began at Marikana has no kind words for the police.

He said the raids on the homes of the miners, shooting teargas and rubber bullets will only worsen the situation.

"The involvement of the military is quiet disturbing,” said Sekoa. “I was there and I saw it myself. The military was running all over the place like mad dogs provoking the people they are supposed to be protecting."

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