Anglo American has shut down its entire platinum operations in the Rustenburg area of South Africa to try to ensure the safety of its 26,000 staff, as intimidation and unrest in the country's mining sector spreads following last month's fatal protests at Lonmin's Marikana mine.
The miner, which accounts for 45 per cent of global platinum production, said on Wednesday that its employees were not on strike but had experienced threats of violence when trying to report for work.
Cynthia Carroll, Anglo's chief executive, said the company was "in touch with the authorities at the highest level." Anglo would continue paying its Rustenburg staff until Sunday but said the suspension would last "until such time as operations can be safely resumed."
South Africa's mining industry is facing what Susan Shabangu, mineral resources minister, told the Financial Times is its "most challenging period … since 1994," or the end of apartheid, after police last month shot and killed 34 illegally striking workers at Lonmin's mine.
Violence related to the strike, exacerbated by rivalry between the established National Union of Mineworkers and the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, had already resulted in the deaths of 10 people, before police opened fire into crowds of protesters on Aug. 16.
Anglo's move underscores the extent to which the ongoing problems at Lonmin, where less than 2 per cent of its 38,000 staff at Marikana are at work, and politically motivated agitation for other workers to follow suit, are spilling over to other companies and sectors.
Platinum mining is concentrated around the Bushveld Complex, home to the world's richest platinum reserves, and has grown rapidly over the past decade, creating an influx of workers while the standard of housing, water and sanitation have generally remained poor.
Rustenburg, where Anglo has five mines, accounts for about 30 to 35 per cent of the group's production. The platinum price rose almost 4 per cent on Wednesday to a five-month high while Anglo's shares fell 0.9 per cent to £19.38.
Anglo said earlier on Wednesday that "unidentified individuals" – which some believe could include striking workers from other mines – had threatened staff reporting for the night shift.
Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for the NUM, said the unrest in the industry was likely to "get worse before it gets better."
"People are starting to think if I'm going to work I'm going to get killed or seriously injured," he said.
The unrest has also spread to the gold sector. Gold Fields on Monday said 15,000 workers were now involved in an illegal strike at its KDC gold mine.
The striking miners have put forward 10 demands including lower taxes and a salary of 12,500 rand ($1,500) a month – the same amount demanded by Lonmin's employees and a figure that Julius Malema, the firebrand former youth leader of the ruling African National Congress, has urged workers to demand.
Gold Fields workers have also asked for changes to the NUM leadership on the ground, highlighting frustration among some workers with the established union.
At Impala Platinum, which had a strike at its Rustenburg mine earlier this year, the company said it had received a second wage demand from about 30,000 workers.