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By Ed Stoddard
Westonaria, SOUTH AFRICA (Reuters) - South Africa's Sibanye Gold said on Monday that 202 illegal miners have now been arrested at its Cooke operations southwest of Johannesburg since the start of a violent wildcat strike last Tuesday.
Sibanye said the strike, which has seen more than a dozen miners assaulted by those striking, was triggered by workers angered by a company drive to root out illegal miners which has included the arrest of employees for collusion and taking food down to the illegal miners working underground.
Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa for decades, with bullion pilfered from both disused and operating mines, and Sibanye has vowed it will clear all illegal miners from its shafts by January 2018.
A company spokesman said on Monday the entire Cooke operation would remain closed for the rest of the week as the firm assessed the security situation.
"We will review the situation again closer to the weekend," the spokesman said.
The illegal miners arrested have been forced to come to the surface because of the strike, which has emptied the shafts of employees, thereby starving them of their sources of food and water underground - an unintended consequence of the stoppage.
Sibanye's Cooke site appeared quiet on Monday with the road to the Cooke 1 and 2 shafts blocked off by a chain strung along three barrels.
"Everyone had gone home," a local union source told Reuters.
The Cooke operations are situated in the working class town of Westonaria, around 40 kilometres outside Johannesburg, which in the last three years has been hit by several violent protests over government services and high unemployment.
(Writing by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Louise Heavens, Greg Mahlich)