Threats keep non-striking S.Africa platinum workers away

27th August 2012, Comments 0 comments

Threats by striking miners on Monday scared off employees from reporting for work at a South African platinum plant where 44 people died in an illegal stayaway.

Strikers threatened retaliation against non-strikers at the London-listed Lonmin mine where most of the 28,000-workforce did not show up for shift 11 days after the country's worst police violence since apartheid.

"I say let us deal with them when they come back from work," Sandiso Mpumlwana, a member of the workers committee told a crowd of around 1,000 people.

Mpumlwana warned that the police would not protect returning workers in their homes, as officers kept watch from a distance on the crowd which gathered near where police shot dead 34 people.

"Police can't protect them forever, they don't sleep with them in their shacks. If you go to work you must know that there will be consequences," he said through a loud hailer to a rousing applause.

Lonmin said threats had stopped workers from going back to work, with only 13 percent of the world number three platinum producer's staff showing up for the morning shift as the stand-off over wage demands dragged past its 18th day.

"Preliminary figures are 13 percent average attendance across all shafts this morning. We understand that employees are waiting for the environment to be safe before returning to work," the company said in a statement.

"There have been incidents of intimidation towards bus drivers overnight as well as intimidation of (eastern shaft) workers this morning, preventing them from coming to work."

Workers at the mine flocked to the dusty open space that has become their regular meeting point, some dressed in underground safety boots and clothes, and said they would not work until wage demands were met.

"The strike continues and we won't move until we are given money, otherwise they should take their company back to London and exploit people there," said Lungisani Nogwanya, who has worked at the mine for the past eight years.

Workers want 12,500 rand (1,190 euros, $1,490 per month), he said.

The group was also awaiting news from Pretoria where 259 people arrested during the August 16 violence were appearing in court on charges ranging from murder to public violence.

Residents bussed in to support the group who were detained after the shooting. Police claimed the shooting was self-defence after they failed to break up a mob when inter-union clashes claimed 10 lives.

But the miners rejected the explanation.

"We don't understand why they were arrested, we want them to be released on free bail. Free bail for everyone," said Mpumlwana.

Outside the court, dozens of women staged a vigil, singing and dancing with one sign stating: "The real criminals SAPS (South African Police Service) and Lonmin -- drop the charges".

Autopsy reports on the dead meanwhile showed most had been shot from behind, a local newspaper reported Monday.

"The post-mortem reports indicate that most of the people were fleeing from the police when they got killed," an unnamed source involved in the investigation told The Star newspaper.

South Africa's police watchdog also said it was probing 130 complaints that police had beaten or injured the arrested workers in detention.

A fresh round of talks between Lonmin and representatives of the striking workers got underway on Monday afternoon, while government-brokered talks with rival unions will continue on Wednesday.

© 2012 AFP

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