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Firing of gold miners in S. Africa may further inflame black unrest

The dismissal of more than 16,500 black miners in South Africa could further inflame an already volatile situation by adding embittered workers to the ranks of the country's unemployed. The workers were fired last weekend after two weeks of unofficial strikes over pay disputes and job practices.

The dismissals by two major South African gold mining companies -- Anglo American Corporation and Anglo Vaal -- took place while unrest continues in black townships.

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Gold is vital to South Africa as the single most important earner of foreign exchange. According to Anglo American, the disruption caused production losses of about $12 million.

Talks between the black National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Anglo American were expected to take place yesterday.

If, as is suspected in labor circles, the dismissal of miners was a bid by the mining companies to curtail the power of the relatively new NUM, observers warn that the firings could evoke a defiant and unified response from other black unions.

The dismissals may strengthen the perception of black activists that there is an alliance between the white minority government and big business.

The question is whether the dismissals will restore production in the mines and put pressure on the NUM -- or whether the dismissals will lead to further disruption.

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