Thursday, August 16, 2012

South African police shoot dead striking miners.

South African police shoot dead striking miners

Up to 18 people killed at Lonmin platinum mine where strike over pay has escalated into alleged turf war between unions

Email David Smith in Johannesburg and Terry Macalister,

Thursday 16 August 2012 19.10 BST

South African police check the bodies of striking workers shot dead near Marikana platinum mine. Photograph: EPA
Police have been accused of a "massacre" after opening fire on mine workers in one of the deadliest days of protest in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

In scenes that evoked memories of some of the country's darkest days, national television showed pictures of police in helmets and body armour shooting at workers on Thursday amid shouting, panic and clouds of dust at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine. After around three minutes of gunfire, bodies littered the field in pools of blood. It was claimed as many as 18 people may have been killed.

Newspaper reporter Poloko Tau tweeted from the scene: "auto guns creacking [sic] and cocked like 100 at a time, scary … warzone down here, 1st shot fired … journalist running, diving and hiding amid shots, water canon spewing water at the strikers … my contact has just been shot dead …"

The fatalities came after a week of turmoil at the Marikana mine which had already seen 10 people killed, including two police officers and two security guards. Lonmin, the world's third biggest platinum producer, was forced to suspend production at the mine, about 60 miles north-west of Johannesburg, after what it called an illegal strike escalated into an alleged turf war between rival unions.

His voice shaking with anger, the union leader Joseph Mathunjwa accused the Lonmin management of colluding with a rival union to orchestrate what he described as a massacre.

Mathunjwa, the president of the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), told South Africa's eNews channel: "We have to send condolences to those families whose members were brutally murdered by a lack of co-operation from management."

He added: "We have done our bit. If the management had changed their commitment, surely lives could have been saved."

The official death toll is not yet known. A Reuters cameraman said he saw at least seven bodies after the shooting, while the AMCU estimated 12 deaths. A reporter for the South African Press Association (Sapa) said he counted 18 bodies. An unspecified number suffered injuries.

The violence reportedly flared when police laying out barricades of barbed wire were outflanked by some of an estimated 3,000 miners massed on a rocky outcrop near the mine. Witnesses claimed that some of the miners were armed with pistols and fired first, while also charging the police with machetes and sticks.

The Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) said: "According to a Sapa report, police tried to disperse striking workers gathered on top of a hill, wielding pangas and chanting war songs. It ended in a three-minute shootout between the two groups, after police fired teargas and then used a water cannon to disperse the strikers, who retaliated by firing live ammunition at the police."

The protests began last week when workers demanded a pay increase to 12,500 rand (£976) a month but turned deadly when the AMCU clashed with South Africa's dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The NUM rejected the charge of collusion with mine bosses. Spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said: "We are not surprised by his allegation … It is not true. Everyone can see through these lies."

Seshoka blamed the AMCU – which has been poaching NUM members in platinum mines – for instigating the bloodshed. "These people said today they want to die on the hilltop. They said they will bring their children to die there. That is why we must say the ringleaders must be arrested."

The trouble comes against a backdrop of growing frustration with the governing African National Congress and its mainstream union allies for moving too slowly to deliver wage increases and public services. Radical and militant voices are making gains in some areas.

Patrick Craven, the national spokesman for Cosatu, which is aligned to the ANC, said it would "convene an urgent meeting of the unions' leaderships to discuss what is emerging as a co-ordinated political strategy to use intimidation and violence, manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, in a concerted drive to create breakaway 'unions' and divide and weaken the trade union movement."

He added: "Cosatu calls upon all workers to remain vigilant but calm in the face of the most serious challenge to workers' unity and strength for many years."

South Africa is home to four fifths of the world's known platinum reserves but has been hit by union militancy and a sharp drop in the price of the precious metal this year. At least three people were killed in a similar round of fighting in January that led to a six-week closure of the world's biggest platinum mine, run by Impala Platinum. Such incidents are seen as tarnishing South Africa's reputation among investors.

This week's violence has forced Lonmin to freeze production at all its South African operations, which account for 12% of global platinum output. The company's London-listed shares plummeted more than 7% on Thursday.

A spokesman at Lonmin's head office in London confirmed the strikers had been served with a final ultimatum to return to work on Thursday or face dismissal, but he denied the move might inflame the situation.

"The mine cannot operate without the rock drill operators," he said. "The company tried every avenue it could to negotiate a settlement and we were left with no option."

16 August 2012
Last updated at 15:31 GMT

Police in South Africa have opened fire during clashes with striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine, leaving at least seven people dead.

Police opened fire after miners carrying machetes defied an ultimatum to disarm, reports from the scene say.

The mine, owned by Lonmin, has been at the centre of a violent industrial dispute exacerbated by inter-union tensions.

Ten people had died in clashes there since last Friday.

The BBC's Milton Nkosi reports from Johannesburg.

No comments:

Post a Comment