Mineweb/Reuters, 23 May 2008

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South Africa's biggest mineworkers' union said on Friday it would tackle xenophobia among its membership, but it dismissed the prospect that attacks on migrants could prompt an exodus of skilled miners. Migrant workers are accused by many poor South Africans of taking scarce jobs and fuelling violent crime. At least 42 people have been killed and 25,000 others displaced as a result of attacks in shantytowns since May 11. The unrest has since spread from the Johannesburg area to other parts of the nation. "There is an agreement on how to engage with that, it is a problem and has to be addressed through mass meetings," said National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) President Senzeni Zokwana. "Up to now there has been no exodus," he told Reuters by telephone on the sidelines of a two-day mining summit of NUM's leadership. The agenda includes discussion of mine safety, attacks on foreigners and economic issues affecting mineworkers. Government officials and labour representatives are attending the summit. Big mining companies in South Africa, which tend to employ signficant numbers of African migrants, said their staff and operations had not been affected by the violence. But the anti-immigrant attacks, if not quelled, could drive away trained miners, damaging the industry, Zokwana said. "If not stopped quickly, these attacks can have a repercussion on the mining sector as they are targeting people who are well-trained and would take time to replace," he said. Zokwana said there were rumours Thursday of possible attacks at informal settlements near some mines around Lonmin, the world's third largest platinum producer. The NUM sent in shop stewards to calm tempers, he said. Bernard Mokoena, a Lonmin spokesman, said all workers were accounted for and operations were normal. South Africa's fourth-ranked and medium sized gold producer, DRDGOLD, said two of its workers were killed in xenophobic attacks that resulted in a drop in output at its ERPM mine, one of the firm's three mines in South Africa. The killings took place at an informal settlement. James Duncan, a spokesman for DRDGOLD, said the EPRM mine had 85-percent attendance on Friday, the best so far this week after attacks on foreigners intensifed last weekend. "The NUM went to the EPRM mine and spoke to the guys there and calm has resumed somewhat," Duncan said. "Some of the mineworkers had been scared and had wanted to leave the country, they had asked to take their holiday and come back when things calm down. But no one has quit the company yet. Most have opted to take advances to send their families home." The gold mining district of the East Rand where DRDGOLD's struggling EPRM mine is located has been hard hit by marauding armed mobs, targeting settlements near the mine, where workers are drawn mainly from neighbouring Mozambique and Lesotho. Duncan said any impact on output would be known by end-June. Officials at AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony, Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum said their operations were unaffected.