Police in show of force as strike by platinum miners begins to hit home
POLICE fired rubber bullets and tear gas and sent men, women and children fleeing into their shacks in a crackdown on striking miners at a South African platinum mine yesterday.
Yesterday’s show of force follows a South African government vow to halt illegal protests and disarm strikers who have stopped work at one gold and six platinum mines north-west of Johannesburg. The strikes have destabilised South Africa’s critical mining sector.
It was the first police action since officers killed 34 miners on 16 August in state violence that shocked the world.
About 500 officers raided hostels at the Lonmin platinum mine before dawn yesterday and confiscated homemade machetes, spears, knives and clubs, police said.
Half a dozen men were arrested for illegal possession of arms and drugs in those raids. Another six were arrested yesterday morning. Officers first fired tear gas at hundreds of miners who refused to disarm at the hill of granite boulders that has become the strikers’ headquarters.
Police then moved into the Wonderkop shantytown where residents set up barricades of burning tyres to try to block the officers from their neighbourhood. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at people who disobeyed orders, baying over a bull horn for them to stay in their homes. An army helicopter flew in to help herd people indoors.
Justice minister Jeff Radebe said: “The South African government has noted and is deeply concerned by the amount of violence, threats and intimidation that is currently taking place in our country.”
Lonmin said it believed that just 3,000 of its 28,000 employees and 10,000 contract miners were involved in the strike. It said the rest of the workforce was staying away because of threats from strikers, who have said they will kill anyone who works.
Ten people were killed in the run-up to the police killings, including two police officers hacked to death by strikers, two mine security guards burned alive in their vehicles and six shop stewards of the dominant National Union of Mineworkers. Strikers accuse the NUM of being co-opted by mine management and being too involved in business and politics to pay attention to the basic shop-floor needs of its members.
The trouble – which began on 10 August at Marikana, the world’s third-largest platinum mine – is rooted in rivalry between the NUM and the breakaway AMCU.
Strikers have rejected a Lonmin offer to boost the entry-level monthly salary by 900 rand (£67.60) to about R5,500 (£413) with commensurate increases for higher paid workers. At government-brokered talks on Friday the company increased the offer to an additional R1,800 (£135) for the rock drill operators who began the strike. But that still falls far short of the strikers’ demands for a minimum monthly wage of R12,500 (£938).
The strikers have said they would rather see Lonmin shut down the mine than accept a lower offer. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan said last week the strikes were “extremely damaging” to the South African economy.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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