Many South African miners accept wage deal

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A majority of South African gold miners on strike accepted a new wage offer from their employers on Friday amid a wave of labor unrest that has hurt the continent’s largest economy.

The strike by tens of thousands of miners in the gold industry started late Tuesday, compounding stoppages by workers in the auto and construction sectors. A protest by municipal power workers in Johannesburg also resulted in outages in some neighborhoods, prompting a provincial safety official to describe alleged tampering with equipment as “terrorism.”

The protests have undercut productivity in a country that is already struggling with falling commodity prices as well as an unemployment rate of about 25 percent, factors that have dampened the expectations of many South Africans two decades after the end of white minority rule.

The ruling African National Congress party has dominated politics since the first all-race elections in 1994, and remains the overwhelming front-runner ahead of elections next year. But discontent over a lack of opportunities and corruption scandals, as well as a more robust opposition, have eroded support for the ANC in some areas.

Most protesting workers in the struggling gold mining industry agreed to salary increases of up to 8 percent, said Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, according to the South African Press Association. Union workers originally demanded wage increases of up to 60 percent, about 10 times the offer made by gold-mining companies.

But Harmony, a major gold-mining company, said all but one of its mines were still severely affected by the strike even though it had made the same revised wage offer as other companies whose employees accepted the proposal.

“We trust that whatever is holding up the decision to support the offer will be resolved soon,” Graham Briggs, chief executive officer of Harmony, said in a statement.

Some 46 people were killed during a six-week period of labor unrest over wages at Lonmin’s platinum mine last year in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. In one incident, police fired into striking miners near the Marikana mine on Aug. 16, 2012, killing 34 people and prompting an official inquiry that is still underway.

Municipal authorities in Johannesburg said Friday they were investigating the turning off of power switches at sub-stations, allegedly by employees who were protesting a new shift system. Power was temporarily lost in Houghton, the affluent neighborhood which is home to Nelson Mandela, the critically ill former president.

Generators were operating at one point in the vicinity of the home of Mandela, who is 95 and was recently brought home in an ambulance after nearly three months in a hospital.

The blackouts, which also affected traffic lights across Johannesburg, infuriated officials who said they would pursue criminal charges against the perpetrators.

“What has happened was equal to an act of terrorism,” said Faith Mazibuko, the top safety official for Gauteng province, which encompasses Johannesburg.

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