Eight black gold miners have died and hundreds have been arrested and fired in the worst violence of the year in South Africa's troubled gold mines, press reports and mine officials said yesterday.
Six of the dead miners were shot by police or mine guards trying to break the strike and suppress rioting, according to mine officials. Another was found stabbed, and the eighth was shot by an unknown source, they said.
The grievances of the black miners are not yet clear, but they appear to involve pay scales and recent mine injuries, including the deaths of six miners in an accident last Sunday.
A police spokesman said four blacks were killed in disturbances Friday night at the West Driefontein gold mine, west of Johannesburg.
Three more men were killed and 14 injured in rioting early yesterday at the Grootvlei gold mine at Springs, 25 miles east of the city, a spokesman for the mine said.
Police tear-gassed more miners early yesterday when they refused to go underground for the morning shift at the West Driefontein mine, a mine spokesman said. Suspected ringleaders were rounded up and several hundred miners were fired, he said. Other districts were reported quiet.
One mine spokesman said the unrest began two days ago in the mines west of Johannesburg over new wage scales in which black production workers received a raise of about 12 percent and surface workers about 11 percent.
Next week, South Africa's 22,000 white miners, who have not staged a major work stoppage since a general strike in 1922, will vote on whether to strike after being offered a 9 percent pay raise.
The mines have been raising black wages faster than white pay in recent years, yet black miners average about $216 per month while whites earn an average of $1,080. Only whites are allowed to be blasters, a highly paid specialty in mine work.
White miners, already angry that other job categories once reserved for whites are being opened to blacks, were reportedly also upset that the mine owners gave blacks slightly higher percentage raises than whites were offered.
Despite the demands for higher pay, rapidly falling gold prices have already forced some mine layoffs.