Police fire tear gas at striking mine workers
Police on Thursday fired tear gas and rubber bullets at workers on an illegal strike at a platinum mine where 10 people have been killed in clashes between rival unions over the last week.
Hundreds of workers armed with machetes, sticks and metal rods had gathered on a hillside near the mine, defying police orders to disperse.
Several people were lying on the ground, some bleeding from wounds, after the crowd fled, according to an AFP reporter.
Police spokesman Lindela Mashego could not confirm the extent of the injuries.
“There’s nothing to say until we find out on the scene what happened,” he told AFP.
Helicopters hovered overhead as police moved toward the workers, carrying rifles and wearing bulletproof vests. Other police rode on horseback, while residents of a nearby township watched the crackdown from a distance.
The South African Press Agency said that some workers responded by firing guns with live ammunition.
Emergency workers were loading people into ambulances, but the Netcare health service could not yet give details on the injuries.
The strike which started last Friday spiralled into violent clashes between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is the dominant union at the mine, and members of the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
At least 10 people have been killed over the last week.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told the local eNews channel that the AMCU president had tried to persuade the workers on the hill to return to work but they refused.
“After that rejection, they told him that they are prepared to die on the hill. They are not going to make a move, they are also going to ask their children to come and join them,” he said.
“We really support that action from the police. We can’t have a situation in which 2,000 workers hold the entire 25,000 workers to ransom,” he said.