JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — DEFIANT South African miners violently attacked police and vowed to keep up strikes until pay demands are met, despite threats of mass dismissals yesterday.
A day after talks to end the crippling work stoppages in the gold sector broke down, mine workers launched sometimes-violent protests while companies signalled a tougher approach to end the labour unrest.
Police at a chrome mine run by Samancor arrested 26 workers amid a fresh spasm of violence that saw one officer attacked by a machete-wielding striker.
Officials said "a police constable was hacked with a panga on his left arm" and had to be rescued by colleagues during an operation to disperse a group of about 3,000 workers who had gathered illegally at the mine about two-hour-drive from economic hub Johannesburg.
One suspect has been charged with attempted murder and the police said further arrests are likely.
Meanwhile Gold Fields, the world number four bullion producer, said it would sack as many as 15,000 workers on Thursday if they did not return to work.
"The company has this morning issued an ultimatum to all striking workers... to present to work by no later than 14:00 hours Thursday, 18 October 2012 or face immediate dismissal," company Chief Executive Officer Nick Holland said.
The firm insisted it had issued the warning after exhausting all "reasonable and lawful alternatives" to end the illegal work stoppage.
But miners across the country showed little sign that they were ready to back down, after rejecting a wage deal reached last week by negotiators of the employer body Chamber of Mines of South Africa and union leaders.
At the Carletonville mine south-west of Johannesburg more than 2,500 people working for Harmony Gold vowed to prolong their strike for months if necessary, unfazed by the prospect of losing their jobs.
"We want money! The strike continues!" Moses Ngwekazi told the throng of workers gathered at a stadium.
Tens of thousands of gold mine workers have been on strike for weeks, halting production in Africa's top gold-producing country.
After Monday's deadlock the Chamber of Mines left the decision to individual companies to fire the workers or radically restructure operations.
"If a solution is not found, the strike can continue for up to three months. We don't care," said mineworker Makhalemele Motaung.
Meanwhile in a predawn raid, police arrested 40 striking workers who had seized equipment worth millions of dollars at Anglo American's Kumba Iron Ore mine west of the country.
They were part of nearly 300 workers that Kumba sacked on Monday following an illegal strike they launched nearly two weeks ago at its Sishen mine in Northern Cape province.
"At about three o'clock (0100 GMT) this morning, we entered the mine premises where the illegal strikers were keeping the mine equipment in their possession. We managed to arrest about 40 of them," Lieutenant Colonel Hendrik Swart, police spokesman for Northern Cape, told AFP.
Sishen in a statement confirmed the "illegal occupation of the company's Sishen mine has been brought to an end by the police who removed the strikers in the early hours of the morning".
Police regained possession of and handed over heavy mining equipment — including 88 haul trucks — that the striking workers had seized since the strike started on October 3.
The miners had threatened to destroy the equipment if a pay increase of 15,000 rand ($) for all workers, above what they already earn, had not been met.
Those arrested will face contempt of court charges after they ignored a Labour Court order to vacate the mine and release equipment worth 3.3 billion rand, police said.