Fresh unrest hits S.Africa platinum belt despite strike deal
South African police fired rubber bullets at a crowd gathered near a platinum mine Wednesday, just a day after miners at another facility called off a wildcat strike that led to dozens of deaths.
The fresh violence in northwestern Rustenburg raised fears that the deal agreed to Tuesday by workers at nearby Lonmin mine — where 45 people have been killed in nearly six weeks — had set a dangerous precedent for wage negotiations.
Police spokesman Dennis Adriao said officers deployed numerous tactics to thin the crowd of about 500 that gathered Wednesday near the world’s number one platinum miner Anglo American Platinum, known as Amplats, where rising protests and tensions forced the closure of five mines last week.
“They refused to disperse. Police had to revert to tear gas and stun grenades and there was also rubber bullets fired,” Adriao said, adding that the crowd had gathered illegally.
Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said tear gas was fired at an informal settlement called Sondela.
Workers at the Lonmin Marikana mines, who had been striking over pay and conditions, reached a deal late Tuesday after more than three weeks of talks. The deal came after police gunned down 34 protesters last month in a shocking incident with echoes of apartheid brutality.
Under the deal, Lonmin miners will return to work at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) Thursday in return for raises of between 11-22 percent, plus bonuses. The increase fell a little short of demands for a monthly salary of 12,500 rands (1,160 euros, $1,520).
Shares in Lonmin, the world’s third-biggest platinum producer, rallied in London on Wednesday morning after workers agreed to end their strike.
At about 0725 GMT, Lonmin shares surged 8.99 percent to 708.4 pence on London’s second-tier FTSE 250 index. The stock has however slumped by almost 30 percent since the start of the year.
As the weeks of strikes dragged on, police last week announced a security clampdown and are now acting swiftly to stamp out illegal gatherings and confiscate machetes and other weapons the attendees sometimes carry.
The crackdown initially appeared to bring a semblance of stability, with Amplats and several miners reopening their shuttered mines this week.
Thousands of Lonmin workers were gathered Wednesday at a local stadium where miners were urged to return to work, in a sharp turn-around after death threats were made on colleagues who went underground during the strike.
“Nobody is going to be terrorised at work,” workers representative Zolani Bodlani told the crowd.
The government has defended its crackdown, saying it was necessary to prevent a descent into lawlessness and damage to the economy, with the key mining industry forming the backbone of the continent’s powerhouse.
Mining employs around 500,000 people and, if related activities are factored in, accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product.