Lonmin protesters sing war songs

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ST Lonmin protest_274~1 INLSA Thousands of Lonmin mine workers gather on a hill near Wonderkop informal settlement. Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse

 Johannesburg - Striking miners gathered on a hill near Lonmin's troubled Marikana mine began singing war songs on Wednesday afternoon.

The men, who had been sitting quietly earlier in the day, periodically stood up and started chanting while waving traditional weapons.

A huge chorus echoed down to police and journalists camped in the area where 10 people have been killed in violent protests since Friday.

Earlier, the protesters periodically sent small delegations to speak to the police, but these negotiating parties had not ventured down the hill for some time by 3pm.

Through powerful lenses police watched two men who appeared to be leaders of the group.

A mysterious man dressed in white, who kneeled motionless against a white pole for some time earlier in the day, had disappeared from the scene.

Rumours that a leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) would address the workers could not immediately be confirmed.

Earlier, Captain Dennis Adriao said the police were trying to negotiate a truce with the workers, who were armed with knobkerries, iron rods and pangas.

He said it was believed the protesters were also in possession of two police service pistols, taken from two officers killed in clashes at the mine on Saturday.

Police wanted to disarm the men to stabilise the situation and reach an amicable solution.

Adriao said negotiations began on Tuesday night and that it was likely to be a lengthy process.

Local residents said most of the men left the hill overnight and returned in the morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, they vowed to stay there until their demands for higher salaries were met. It was believed the men went to the hilltop to receive traditional medicine to “make them brave”.

On Friday, thousands of Lonmin rock drill operators started an illegal strike and protest march.

Ten people Ä two police officers, two security guards, three protesters and three other men Ä had been killed since then.

The protests are believed to be linked to rivalry between the Num and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) over recognition agreements at the mine.

Workers also wanted higher wages. They claim to be earning R4,000 a month, with those living outside the hostel earning an extra R1,000.

Reported demands have included pay of R12 500 a month. - Sapa

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