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At Least 76 Strikers Hurt in Gold Mine Clash

August 14, 1987

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ More than 100 black strikers at two mines were injured Friday by police and security officers who used birdshot, rubber bullets and tear gas against them in the worst violence yet in the mineworkers’ nationwide walkout.

In one confrontation, at the Optimum coal mine in eastern Transvaal province, police said they fired birdshot into a crowd of about 800 workers, some of whom were throwing rocks, injuring 13 strikers.

Another 14 miners were hurt in a stampede to escape the gunfire - the first reported use of live ammunition during the 5-day-old strike - and 42 tear gas grenades lobbed at the crowd, police said.

Police said they had been summoned to the mine to investigate a complaint of intimindation by strikers. They said none of the injured strikers required hospitalization.

West of Johannesburg, at Anglo American Corp.’s Western Deep Level gold mine, 76 black strikers were injured Friday when police and security officers fired rubber bullets at a crowd of about 700 who refused to disperse and began throwing stones, mine owners said.

It was the largest number of injured at a single mine in the strike called to demand a 30 percent wage hike and better benefits.

In another incident, the Trans-Natal Corp. alleged that five workers who defied the strike were hospitalized after being poisoned with insecticide at a coal mine east of Pretoria.

A university-based group of labor experts, in the first independent estimate of the strike’s size, said 334,640 of the 509,784 blacks employed at 59 major gold and coal mines were on strike - a figure close to the National Union of Mineworkers’ claim of 340,000.

The Chamber of Mines, which represents the targeted mining houses, said Friday the strike involves 40 percent of the black work force and affects 33 mines. On Thursday, the chamber had asserted the number of strikers had dropped to less than one-third of the work force.

The union said a strike ballot would begin Monday at diamond mines where it has declared a dispute with De Beers Consolidated. About 70 percent of De Beers’ 9,500 miners are union members.

About 150 union members who struck Thursday at Rand Refinery, the main processor of export gold, returned to work Friday, management said. The plant had continued to operate with workers who did not strike.

Gold provides South Africa with 60 percent of its foreign currency earnings.

Anglo American, South Africa’s largest gold producer, said Western Deep Levels strikers carried machetes and gasoline bombs Friday.

Cyril Ramaphosa, union general secretary, said 78 miners were injured there, seven remained in the hospital and the company sealed off the mine, preventing union officials from interviewing members.

Union officials said the strikers were singing outside their hostel when police were summoned at 4 a.m.

Late Thursday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to evict 300 strikers staging a sit-in at an Anglo American gold dump reclamation facility. The union reported at least 19 men injured and 23 arrested at the ERGO plant, east of Johannesburg.

Police said one striker was hurt, but they confirmed 23 arrests.

Workers at ERGO joined the strike Wednesday and said Thursday they would remain in the facility, which has no sleeping quarters.

The company accused strikers of sabotaging machinery and releasing five tons of sulphuric acid. It obtained a court order to evict them.

The union said police attacked strikers as they were gathered to discuss the court order. The union brought 19 injured workers to a news conference in Johannesburg. Several had eyes swollen shut and deeply gashed faces.

At least 145 strikers have been reported injured and 200 arrested since the 300,000-member union began the strike Sunday night.

Anglo American’s gold and coal mines have been the most seriously affected of six major mining houses. The company produced 39 percent of South Africa’s gold last year.

Peter Gush, gold and uranium division chief for Anglo American, denied union accusations that police were being used to break the biggest legal strike in the country’s history.

″If striking workers behaved in a peaceful manner, security action would have been unnecessary,″ he said.

Union spokesman Marcel Golding blamed the strike-related injuries on ″trigger-happy police and mine security.″

Besides seeking a raise in what it says is an average black miner’s monthly salary of $170, the union wants danger pay, longer vacations and other benefit improvements.

The Chamber of Mines on July 1 unilaterally implemented pay raises ranging from 15 to 23.4 percent.

The chamber said the average black gold miner’s salary was about $250 a month before the increases brought them to $285.

Elsewhere:

-20,000 black postal workers continued a wage strike that has disrupted mail service in many black towns.

-The black chemical workers’ union said its 8,900 members at Sasol, the state-backed energy company, would strike Monday over a demand that May 1, the international labor day, and June 16, the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto riots, be made paid holidays.

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