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South Africa's main mine union to launch youth wing as numbers fall

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's dominant mineworkers union will launch a youth wing on Thursday in a bid to shore up its numbers after it lost tens of thousands of members to a militant rival last year on the country's platinum belt.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which says it has around 300,000 members or about 60 percent of the mine workforce in the world's top platinum producer, is a key political ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Its massive loss of members to the radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) last year in the platinum shafts during a bloody turf war was rooted in rank and file perceptions that its leaders had lost touch with ordinary workers and become too close to management and the ANC.

NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said research showed the union's membership was getting younger and that most of the members it lost to AMCU last year were in their 20s or 30s.

"We need young guys. The old guys are more loyal to the NUM because they came up with us through the struggle against apartheid," Seshoka told Reuters.

"The young guys are more militant and we have to look at the interests of young members," he said.

The new entity will be called the "NUM Youth Forum" and will be modeled on the lines of the ANC Youth League. It will elect its leaders at meetings in Midrand north of Johannesburg, on Thursday and Friday, Seshoka said.

The creation of a youth wing also comes ahead of wage negotiations in the mining sector which will be among the toughest ever, given inflation, worker militancy and shrinking company margins.

"The young guys are likely going to be very hard on wage talks," Seshoka said.

The move signals NUM is preparing to literally fight back against AMCU, seeking younger men to beef up its ranks, after the rivalry between the two triggered violence last year that killed over 50 people and sparked a wave of wildcat strikes that hammered production.

(Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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