S.African union presses for wider transport strike

By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 7 (Reuters) - South African rail freightoperator Transnet is bracing for a one-day strike byport and rail workers in support of a walkout by 20,000 truckersthat has hit fuel supplies round the economic hub ofJohannesburg and at least one car plant.

Large parts of South Africa's gold and platinum miningsectors have been brought to a standstill in the last two monthsby a wave of wildcat labour unrest in which almost 50 peoplehave been killed -- 34 of them by police.

State-owned Transnet said on Sunday it had been served witha notice of a walkout "in a week's time" by the SATAWU transportunion behind the two-week trucker stoppage, but did not say whenit might occur.

"We are considering the notice and will activate ourcontingency measures to ensure minimal disruptions should theaction materialise," Transnet said in a statement.

SATAWU spokesman Vincent Masoga said wage talks betweenfreight bosses and unions were scheduled to restart on Tuesdayafter breaking down acrimoniously at the end of last week, butthe union was still gearing up for action.

"We've issued notices. It is going ahead. We aremobilising," Masoga said.

Top producer Anglo American Platinum fired 12,000illegal strikers on Friday, raising fears of even more violencearound the "platinum belt" city of Rustenburg although theweekend passed off largely without incident.

The mine strikes look set to knock already shaky economicgrowth in Africa's biggest economy and have already triggered asharp sell-off in the rand . The trucker strike, if itpersists, could have a far harsher and wider effect.

Oil giant Shell said on Friday it could not honourfuel delivery contracts around Johannesburg, declaring "forcemajeure" to free itself and customers from existing obligations,and other petrol suppliers are holding their breath.

General Motors reported disrupted production at itsplant in the southern city of Port Elizabeth.

President Jacob Zuma and his African National Congress havebeen criticised as slow to respond to the strikes, although theANC's long-standing ties to the unions and a looming internalleadership election mean decisive action is unlikely.

Zuma is favoured to win re-election at the Decemberconference, teeing him up for a second five-year term as head ofstate in 2014, although domestic media are alive with rumours hecould face a challenge from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The speculation moved up a gear on Sunday with newspaperspublishing excerpts of a new Motlanthe political biography, eventhough in the book Motlanthe refused to be drawn on whether hewould accept a nomination to run against Zuma.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley; editing by Ron Askew)

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