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Shabagu to intervene to stop violence

Aug 14 2012 22:46 Reuters

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Cape Town - Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said on Tuesday that she was prepared to intervene to try and resolve the dispute at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine in the North West, where 10 people have been killed in violence linked to a battle for dominance between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

"It's quite clear it's rivalry between the two unions. If this matter continues we are going to be involved in the process of making sure we find peace," she told Reuters.

Since the violence started on Friday during an illegal strike held by 3 000 rock drill operators, 10 people have been killed, including two police officers who were hacked to death, while police confirmed that three protesters who were killed on Monday were shot dead by officers who were acting in self-defence.

Of the others killed, two were security guards who were stabbed and had firebombs hurled at their car.

One miner was shot while trying to report for work, while another was hacked to death in his hostel room, AFP reported.

Earlier on Tuesday, scores of police officers, including units mounted on horseback backed by armoured vehicles, descended on the Marikana facility to prevent any repeat of the violence.

Police helicopters clattered overhead as officers set up checkpoints and laid down barbed wire.

In a nearby township, a group of men, apparently mine workers, gathered carrying sticks and bars.

Sapa reported that the tenth victim was discovered near the mine on Tuesday.

"We were notified of a body found in the bushes. We don't know who the man was and how he died," said Captain Dennis Adriao.

"First indications were that this could be linked to the violence. Police enforcement will stay on as long as it is needed."

A Sapa reporter who was on the scene said the body was lying face upwards 100m away from a hilltop where about 500 men had gathered, armed with knobkerries and iron rods.

A skull, which appeared to be that of an animal, had been placed on the man's chest. Police had since removed the body from the scene.

Local residents had earlier said an inyanga (herbalist) or sangoma (traditional healer) would perform a ritual on the mountain top and sprinkle the men with muti (traditional medicine) to "make them brave".

Ultimatum

The striking miners who regrouped on top of the hill are refusing to move until until their pay is more than tripled.

They are demanding that their pay be pushed up to R12 500 from R4 000 per month. Those workers who live outside the hostel earn R5 000 a month.

"We want money. We have kids to take care of," said one worker, Alfred Makhaya, from the Eastern Cape.

He had been working for Lonmin for over eight years and was being paid R4 000 a month. He was forced to leave the hostel to rent a room so he could have an extra R1 000.

"This money is too little, I am working hard and I'm being paid so little."

He said if he was not going to be paid R12 500 per month, his children would end up being thieves, because he would be unable to pay for their education.

While the situation remains tense, Lonmin has decided to freeze mining operations in the country, Reuters said.

Executives at Lonmin said mining had stopped at all its shafts across the South African platinum belt, though essential services such as ventilation were continuing. The fact that the shafts remain operational should allow mining to restart as soon as miners return to work.

"Until the place is safe we don't want to talk about production," Lonmin spokesperson Barnard Mokwena told a press briefing at Marikana.

He defended the company against criticism that it had failed to protect its workers.

"I do not know any company that has the competency to deal with such vicious acts. We are dealing with people who crossed security lines repeatedly."

He said the violent acts, such as the killings of two security guards, could have happened anywhere.

The company said it would issue the employees who initiated the stay away with an ultimatum on Wednesday.

This could lead to the dismissal of at least 3 000 mineworkers should they not return to work.

Mouthing off

Meanwhile, the tit-for-tat blame game between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) continues.

The violence at the mine has been linked to a in a membership turf war between the two unions, the rivalry which had already caused friction at Lonmin's Karee mine.

Amcu claims that the mine's management favours its rival NUM.

"Management, they are in support of NUM, they're sleeping in one bed with NUM," Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told a news briefing. 

The union's deputy president, Jeff Mthahmeme, said that NUM's recognition agreement with the mine was due to expire next month, and that it was "misleading people" to ensure its majority was maintained.

Amcu officials deny their members are behind the unrest, but a pattern of illegal strikes followed by violence is emerging in the wake of their recruiting efforts.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni in turn blamed blamed the violence on the upstart union, AP reported.

Baleni described the unrest as "a simple criminal action" and said that its union rival preyed on "highly embedded" workers at the mine.

"These people are taking advantage of the common social challenges of people in this area," the union leader said.

"There's a high level of unemployment as we know, secondly workers are highly indebted, so it's easy to go to workers and say that if you belong to us, we will get you more money."

He said Amcu's claim that the Num was about to lose recognition status was "hogwash".

"We have over 60% representation at Lonmin. We are the majority union and are growing."

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) has also weighed in on the situation, condemning the violence, and blamed the fighting on political skull-duggery, according to Sapa.

"The federation believes that violence is in this case used as a political strategy to intimidate workers into making political choices about their association," Cosatu said.

"The federation appeals to workers to observe maximum discipline and unity in the face of a political strategy geared towards dividing them and weakening their position in relation to mine bosses."

lonmin  |  cosatu  |  num  |  mahikeng  |  mining unrest  |  labour
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