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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2007, 16:27 GMT
S African miners strike on safety
Striking miners
The miners accuses employers of ignoring them
South African mine workers are holding a one-day strike in protest at poor safety in the country's mines.

Some 240,000 people were expected to take part in the first countrywide stoppage by miners over safety issues.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said 40,000 people joined its march in central Johannesburg.

At least 200 workers have been killed this year in the country's mines - including three in recent days - more than the 199 who died in 2006.

South Africa is the continent's biggest gold exporter and a large producer of platinum, with some of the deepest mines in the world and one of the worst reputations for mine safety.

'Empty commitments'

The strike halted work at more than 60 mining companies such as AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony, hurting output and revenues.

Workers are saying enough is enough
Erick Gcilitshana
National Union of Mineworkers

The union wants to put pressure on firms to spend more on safety and force the government to prosecute negligent mine owners.

It says that with the gold price at its highest level in a quarter of a century, the number one priority for the employers has become production.

"Workers are saying enough is enough. Safety is needed now," said Erick Gcilitshana, the NUM health and safety head.

"The industry made a lot of empty commitments and the fatality rates are forever rising to the stars... employers need to take a leadership role and invest in safety in the same way they invest in production," he added.

The protesters waved shovels and slogans that read "Mine Safety is a Human Right" and "Blood-dripped profit is the bosses' luxury".

Key sector

They marched to the headquarters of South Africa's Chamber of Mines, the industry employer's body, to hand over their demands.

"We share these concerns with the union," Frans Barker, a senior Chamber of Mines official, told the BBC.

Striker lying on the road with a shovel
Some 200 miners die each year
"We've agreed with the union that they will go on this work-stoppage, in exchange for which the parties will sit down in the next few weeks and months. And we're going to jointly work out action plans and pledges to address the issue of safety."

The strike comes as a safety audit into mining - ordered by President Thabo Mbeki - is due to start later this month.

In October, more than 3,000 miners were trapped a mile (1.6km) underground at a Harmony Gold mine, some for as long as 40 hours.

They were all rescued but Harmony Gold's Patrice Motsepe said at the time: "Our safety records both as a company and a country leave much to be desired."

South Africa's mining sector accounts for some 16% of the country's GDP.

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