RUSTENBURG - Days after soldiers were deployed, South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday belatedly ordered military forces to assist police trying to control labour unrest in the nation‘s crucial mining sector. Despite resolution of the longest and bloodiest strike, two more deaths were reported.
Even as miners returned to work Thursday at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine in Marikana where police killed 34 miners on Aug. 16 labor advocates said police killed two more people: a ruling party municipal councilor who died of injuries from a rubber bullet and a miner who was run over by an armored car. Zuma‘s office said he was invoking the Constitution to use the military to support police „in the prevention and combating of crime as well as the maintenance of law and order in the Marikana Area ... and other areas around the country where needed“ until Jan. 31. Last weekend some 1 000 soldiers trucked over the weekend into the „platinum belt“ 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. Thursday morning, police in two water cannon trucks and several armored cars confronted striking Anglo American Platinum miners at a shantytown where residents set up barricades of rocks and burning tires and logs.
Before long, the fires died down and most of the police pulled back. The people dispersed, leaving a herd of goats milling around the water cannons. Strike leader Evans Ramokga told The Associated Press that one miner was run over Wednesday by a police armored car and dragged several metres (feet) before it stopped. He said the man died overnight in the hospital. Police spokesman Dennis Adriao said he was unaware of the incident which occurred at the scene where police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to break up a march by thousands of strikers. The mines near Rustenburg belong to Anglo American Platinum, the world‘s largest platinum producer.
„The only thing we want is to sit down and have them hear our demands,“ Ramokga said. He said authorities have refused to give permission for the thousands of strikers among Anglo‘s 15 000 workers there to hold a protest march to back their demands for a gross monthly salary of 16 070 rand (US$2 000). Anglo issued an ultimatum for workers to report for duty by Thursday night or threatened to act on a court order declaring the strike illegal.
That gives Anglo the power to fire strikers. „Anglo American Platinum‘s Rustenburg mining operations are already under considerable economic pressure, any further delays in returning to work will only increase the risk to the long-term viability of these mines,“ it said in a statement late Wednesday. The Marikana Solidarity Campaign meanwhile reported that African National Congress councilor Paulina Masutlhe was shopping Saturday at the Wonderkop shantytown where Lonmin platinum miners live when police firing from a speeding armored car hit several women. Masutlhe was hit in the abdomen and leg and rushed to the hospital, where she died Wednesday, a statement said.
Adriao said he is investigating the report of a death. He said police had reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate that several people were hit by rubber bullets in a raid to disarm strikers on Saturday, the day after the government ordered a crackdown. - Nampa/AP