JOHANNESBURG: Security guards fatally shot two striking miners Wednesday after they tried to reach the armoury of a South African coal mine, the facility’s owners and police said.

About 100 strikers had tried to gain access to the secured weapons area at the Magdalena mine, owned by Canadian group Forbes & Manhattan Coal, near Dannhauser in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.

“Around 10:30 am (0830 GMT) some of the workers apparently attempted to break into an armoury on the mine and they were dispersed by mine security,” Colonel Jay Naicker of the South African police said in a statement.

Mines and other businesses in South Africa often employ armed security forces, who must check their weapons into an armoury before leaving work.

After the alleged break-in attempt, security workers then chased the miners to a nearby settlement, where the pair were shot, Naicker said.

“Both men were taken for medical treatment but passed away from their injuries,” Naicker said. The men’s names were not immediately released.

He added that police were investigating two counts of murder and had seized firearms from the mine’s security staff.

Miners have been on strike at the Magdalena mine since October 17.

Forbes Coal president Stephan Theron said that as a safety precaution and to protect the mine’s assets, the facility would suspend all operations “until such time as deemed safe and appropriate by management and the board.”

Wednesday’s bloodshed is the latest in a series of deadly incidents during a wave of wildcat strikes that have gripped South Africa’s mining sector since early August.

The actions started with a strike at platinum giant Lonmin’s Marikana mine, which had a domino effect engulfing much of South Africa’s key mining industry.

The strikes have impacted South Africa’s economy and on Wednesday new figures showed its trade deficit widened sharply in September on a big fall of the export of metals and other mining products.

The South African Revenue Service said exports fell 7.7 per cent amid the rolling mine strikes.

The most notorious incident in the strikes is the August 16 police shooting at Marikana, when officers opened fire on striking workers, some of whom were armed, killing 34 and injuring 78.

The shootings sparked memories of brutality under apartheid, which ended in 1994. Police say they opened fire in self-defence after miners attacked them.

The unrest has cost at least 10.1 billion rand ($1.2 billion) in lost production this year, pushing the country’s yearly growth forecast downward to 2.5 per cent.

That downward momentum has put pressure on President Jacob Zuma, who will be vying to keep his job at an electoral conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December.

Given the huge voter support the ANC still enjoys, winning re-election as party leader would virtually guarantee Zuma a second term as president. But rumours of a leadership challenge have mounted in the run-up to the ANC electoral conference.

– AFP