Lonmin withholds warning letters

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Lonmin strike violence REUTERS FILE PHOTO: Striking miners gather outside a South African mine in Rustenburg.

The troubled Lonmin mine in Marikana in the North West has refrained from issuing warning letters to striking workers in order to avoid “harming” ongoing negotiations.

“Union leaders showed commitment to speak to workers...we did not want to send conflicting messages,” said spokesman Barnard Mokwena.

Production at the world's third biggest platinum producers came to a halt as thousands of workers, mostly rock drillers, embarked on a wage strike last Friday.

The company on Tuesday indicated they would issue warning letters to workers to return to work.

Talks between Lonmin and the two unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) continued throughout the day.

The talks would resume on Thursday, said Mokwena.

Hundreds of armed workers had gathered again on a hill top at nearby Wonderkop.

Earlier on Wednesday police made their way to the hill to negotiate a truce with workers who had gathered there since early morning.

Spokesman Captain Dennis Adriao said the plan was to disarm the workers and normalise the situation.

The negotiations stalled later in the afternoon as workers started wielding traditional weapons and chanting war songs.

NUM president Senzeni Sokwana was ejected by the workers as he tried to persuade them to return to work.

The workers had earlier demanded that Zokwana get out of the police van he was in and speak to them directly.

His call to them to return to work was met with shouting and chants from the crowd, who refused to listen to him. Zokwana, who was speaking from inside the police vehicle, could no longer get a word across and had to be whisked away by the police.

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) Joseph Mathunjwa however received a warm welcome from the workers.

They clapped and shouted “Amandla!” as Mathunjwa delivered his speech.

Mathunjwa said he agreed with the workers that the police should leave the area.

“We could have spoken to you a long time ago had it not been for the police presence here,” he said.

He told them management had promised not to fire them as long as they returned to work.

“The power is yours, but you need to go back to work so that negotiations with management can commence.”

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

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

The body of the tenth victim, clad in khaki, was found about 100m from the hilltop where workers had gathered on Tuesday afternoon.

Adriao said the dead police officers could not be named yet as their families had not identified them yet.

One officer was based in the North West while the other was from Gauteng, he said.

The protests are believed to be linked to rivalry between the NUM and the Amcu over recognition agreements at the mine.

Workers also wanted higher wages. They claim to be earning R4000 a month, with those living outside the hostel earning an extra R1000. Reported demands included pay of R12,500 a month.

The workers told journalists that they did not care about the unions and only wanted a wage increase. - Sapa


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