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South Africa government urges short, peaceful strikes

South Africa's government urged mineworkers who are expected to down tools on Thursday to ensure their protests are peaceful and short, amid fears over violence and damage to the economy.

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa's government urged mineworkers who are expected to down tools on Thursday to ensure their protests are peaceful and short, amid fears over violence and damage to the economy.

"Whilst workers have the right to protest, as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic, we encourage the protest to be within the confines of the law," said government spokeswoman Phumla Williams.

The comments come just two days before tens of thousands of gold and platinum miners were set to go on strike over a pay dispute.

South Africa's labour minister urged union leaders to avoid prolonged industrial action, saying sustained strikes would only hurt the workers themselves.

Giving an annual address to organised labour Tuesday, Mildred Oliphant called for union leaders to take a firm stand against protest violence and to look again at "the wisdom of prolonged strikes."

"After a certain period of sustained action, the strike ceases to be a weapon for workers interests but an arrow that inflicts pain and wounds in the workers themselves," she said.

In 2013 strikes in the mining, automotive and transport sectors trimmed already modest growth in Africa's largest economy.

Oliphant acknowledged that the last year was "highly contested" and "marked by conflict and controversy" in terms of labour relations.

But, she said, things can only improve.

"It can only get better from here and that will be possible if we make a commitment to work together in addressing the many challenges that face us."

The strikes come against the backdrop of a country with soaring inequality and high unemployment, which officially stands at 25 per cent.

The African National Congress-led government hopes to create 2.8 million new jobs by 2015, but its reform efforts have been thwarted by the left-wing and union allies.

Oliphant dismissed calls from the International Monetary Fund and others for South Africa to implement labour reforms quickly.

"There are also some who are clearly of the view that our labour legislation is too restrictive and that the South African labour market is over-regulated. We certainly don't think so."

That is unlikely to sit well with investors, who have labelled South Africa one of the "fragile five" economies -- along with Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey.

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