Hundreds of the 12,000 miners sacked by the world’s largest platinum producer in South Africa on Saturday gathered to protest their dismissal and mourn a colleague killed in clashes with police.
The workers meeting at a stadium in the northern town of Rustenburg would also debate how to respond to the mass dismissal by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).
Some told AFP they would use violence to force mine management to rehire them.
“If they are not willing to talk to us many things will be burnt starting from today,” said Hendrick Mpondo, 27.
“If they say they dismissed us we are going to fight against them,” he said.
“Right now some of the workers were planning to go and burn the smelters.”
Near the Thembelani shaft, three vehicles torched on Friday night lay by the road side, a sign of the violence that has accompanied the strike.
Groups of workers from various shafts made their way into the stadium under police escort, singing and chanting slogans, while a helicopter circled the area.
Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Marikana a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch leader at a different mine was shot dead on Friday evening, in what the union has described as an assassination.
“The NUM is shocked at yet another assassination of one of its branch leaders in Marikana,” the union said in a statement.
“This comes after the death of the NUM branch chairperson last weekend and the attack on another branch leader who escaped while his wife was killed,” said NUM.
Unions have come under fire as workers reject the traditional negotiation structures and accuse their guilds of conniving with mine managers.
Around 28,000 Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) workers have been on a wildcat strike for three weeks at the firm’s sprawling facilities in Rustenburg, which account for around a quarter of world platinum production.
Amplats on Friday said the miners failed to appear before disciplinary hearings “and have therefore been dismissed in their absence”.
It is the latest crisis to hit South Africa’s vital minerals sector, which has been crippled by a wave of violent disputes over miners’ pay since August.
The company said the strike had so far cost 700 million rand ($80 million, 60 million euros) in lost revenue.
“Despite the company’s repeated calls for employees to return to work, we have continued to experience attendance levels of less than 20 percent,” Amplats said in a statement.
But with many miners unwilling to give up their demands for higher pay and Amplats taking a tough line, the spectre of violence looms.
In August 46 people died during a strike at the Lonmin platinum mine in nearby Marikana.
“Things now are tuning to a point,” said Gaddhafi Mdoda a worker and activist. “They are leaving us with no choice.”
At least seven people have been killed around Rustenburg in strike-related violence this week.
Late Thursday one miner was killed when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group of 300 illegal strikers protesting on a hilltop close to the mines.
The independent police watchdog is investigating the man’s death “as the incident appeared to have arisen from police action,” according to police spokeswoman Emelda Setlhako.
With around 100,000 workers currently on strike across the country, President Jacob Zuma — who has publicly kept his distance from the crisis — has called for the work stoppages to end.
“We should not seek to portray ourselves as a nation that is perpetually fighting,” he told business leaders in Johannesburg.
Investors, already spooked by earlier violence, warned Friday’s dismissals could deepen a crisis that has already paralysed an industry that accounts for around 20 percent of the continental powerhouse’s GDP.
“The government is doing nothing,” said Peter Attard Montalto, a strategist with Japanese bank Nomura, who warned the strikes had already shaved 0.2 to 0.3 percent off third quarter growth.
Analysts have warned that the strikers’ demands will result in job losses in the country where one in every four employable people is already out of work.
In February, Amplats’ rival Impala Platinum fired 17,000 workers, only to rehire them a few weeks later as part of a wage agreement.
Amplats on Friday indicated it was open to “exploring the possibility of bringing forward wage negotiations within our current agreements.”