More than 2,200 miners working in platinum mines on Monday launched the fourth underground protest to hit the South African mining industry in less than two months.

Operations have been suspended in two shafts at the Bafokeng Rasimone mine, northwest of Johannesburg, due to what the mine owners are calling an “illegal underground protest”.

Impala Platinum Holdings, one of the world’s leading platinum producers, also known as Implats, said 2,205 miners had joined the protest.

The reasons for the protest are “yet to be determined”, the company said in a statement, saying it was “closely monitoring” events.

Implats said it had “proactively suspended mining operations in both shafts and recalled all employees from underground work areas”.

The authorities have been informed to “protect” miners underground, the statement said.

The company warned that it would “deal decisively with employees who engage in illegal conduct and criminal acts”.

South Africa is experiencing a growing number of wildcat strikes by miners occupying mines and blocking production.

“Underground protests and similar illegal actions (…) have become more frequent in recent months and are causing concern and disruption to the mining industry as a whole”, Implats lamented.

In October, more than 100 gold miners spent nearly three days underground in Springs, near Johannesburg, as part of a dispute between rival unions. This month, 440 others staged a similar action at another gold mine, while 250 platinum mine workers occupied a shaft for three days at the same time to demand better wages.

The mining industry employs hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa, the world’s leading exporter of platinum and a major exporter of gold, diamonds, coal and other raw materials.

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