MARIKANA, South Africa — Hundreds of striking miners forced the closure Wednesday of four mines of Anglo American Platinum, the world’s largest producer, as labor unrest spread in South Africa’s biggest industry.
More than 60,000 miners were not working Wednesday, though it is unclear how many support the strike to demand a monthly take-home pay of $1,560 — and how many are frightened by intimidation and death threats if they report for duty.
The plight of miners living in tin shacks while they produce the raw materials for luxury goods under dangerous conditions has put a spotlight on the South African government’s failure to meet basic needs like clean water and decent health care. It also has drawn attention to the widening gap between a small black elite that lives sumptuously while many South Africans worry about where their next meal will come from.
Police said some 1,500 strikers blocked roads to the Amplats mine near Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg. Anglo American Platinum said it had taken the rest of its 19,000 staff to a safe place. It said it had shut four mines out of concern for its workers’ safety.
Mine security guards fired tear gas Wednesday at striking gold miners, who had prevented the National Union of Mineworkers from holding a meeting and tried to block a goods train from leaving the west section of KDC mine, Gold Fields International spokesman Sven Lunsche said. Some of Gold Fields 15,000 workers want the politically connected national union out of the mine, near Carletonville. Some 85 percent stayed away from work Wednesday, Lunsche said.
The trouble started Aug. 10 with a strike at London-registered Lonmin PLC gold mine, neighboring Amplats, where 45 people have been killed, including 34 shot by police on Aug. 16. The most recent death is a body found Tuesday with machete wounds to the head, police said.
Miners feeling the pinch from a no-work, no-pay strike marched and danced around the mine as their protest entered its fifth week.
Lonmin said just 1.8 percent of its employees reported for work Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, trade unions and government ministers accused firebrand politician Julius Malema of inciting the unrest.
On Tuesday, Malema called for a nationwide mine strike, addressing thousands of striking Gold Fields miners.
‘‘All the miners in South Africa are demanding 12,500 rand,’’ Malema said, the equivalent of $1,560. ‘‘You must now benefit from this gold you are mining. You want a piece of gold. You get 12,500 rand.’’