JOHANNESBURG - The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Thursday five of its members had been attacked by a rival union at Sibanye-Stillwater's Beatrix mine in Welkom in Free State province, leaving one of them dead.

Violence broke out on Wednesday night during a strike by rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at Beatrix and Sibanye's Kloof mine in Gauteng.

NUM branch secretary at Beatrix Xolisa Nqwiliso said their member died after being shot, while four others were seriously injured after they were randomly attacked in a bus, allegedly by Amcu members.

"Those attackers started by closing the security gates, throwing stones at the bus that was transporting workers to work. Unfortunately, one of our members was shot and killed and others sustained serious injuries," Nqiliso said.

But a separate statement from Amcu appeared to claim the dead and injured workers as its own members, who were allegedly provoked by NUM members after their meeting to iron out last-minute details about their strike.

Nqwiliso urged law enforcement agencies to hunt down and arrest the perpetrators, and also called on Sibanye to ensure that workers were protected.

The company condemned the violence and said all night shifts had been suspended at its gold operations for the duration of the AMCU job boycott.

"Sibanye-Stillwater advises that the onset of the strike action by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at the company's gold operations last night has been accompanied by significant levels of violence and intimidation," spokesperson James Wellsted said.

"Sibanye-Stillwater condemns the violence and urges the unions and employees to strike peacefully and respect the rights of others. Reported acts of intimidation and violence will be investigated and employees who are implicated, will be subject to internal disciplinary measures in line with the company's policy."

He said operations would continue during the day shift "where sufficient employees report for work".

Amcu embarked on a protected strike at midnight at all of Sibanye's operations to press for a minimum wage increase of R12,500 and an increase of R1,000 for three years.

The company currently employs approximately 32,200 people at its South African gold operations, with Amcu representing approximately 15,000 of them in the bargaining unit. 

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa called an urgent media briefing on the violence which his organisation in turn blamed on NUM.

- African News Agency (ANA)