Six months on from the strike-related violence that left 44 people dead at the Marikana mine in South Africa, unrest and uncertainty still plague the country's mining sector.
At least nine mine employees were hurt Monday when security guards shot rubber bullets to break up a confrontation between rival union groups at Anglo American Platinum's Siphumelele mine, in northwest South Africa, Anglo American said in a statement.
It's the latest in a number of incidents at South African mines that have disrupted the industry. A string of wildcat labor actions, coupled with rising power costs and depressed commodity prices on the international market, have put pressure on many mining companies operating in South Africa, the continent's largest economy.
"Mining companies have really struggled to get back onto production levels prior to the strikes," says Abrie Olivier, mining leader for southern Africa at Deloitte. He adds that the "heightened tensions" witnessed last year have also raised questions about the role of unions within the mining sector.
Last year's tensions have been widely blamed on competition for members between rival trade unions -- the more established National Union of Mineworkers and the fast-expanding Association of Mineworkers and Construction, which is seen as the more militant of the two.
Olivier adds: "Six months down the line, there's quite a big process in terms of redefining the landscape of the unions -- who's in control and who's not, who's got the voice of the workers and who doesn't, how do mining companies engage with labor through union."
Last August, violent clashes at a platinum mine owned by Lonmin, in Marikana, about two hours northwest of Johannesburg, sparked national outrage after 34 people died when police opened fire on striking workers. Ten others died in the earlier days of the protests, including two police officers.
After the carnage, wildcat strikes marred by violence became the order of the day in South Africa's mining sector. Fatal clashes between rival unions, as well as underground sit-ins, brought several operations to a halt and cost the country big money in lost production.
In December, Harmony Gold cited security concerns for its decision to suspend operations in its Kusasalethu mine, about 100 kilometers west of Johannesburg. The company, which is one of South Africa's top gold producers, has only now reached an agreement with unions and expects the mine to return to full production toward the end of June.
Last month, discontent among workers rose again after Anglo American Platinum, the world's top platinum producer, announced plans to mothball two mines, sell an unprofitable one and put 14,000 jobs at risk, although those plans are currently on hold.