Lonmin workers, cops in truce talks

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IOL pic aug15 lonmin police presence

Reuters

Police are maintaining a strong presence in Rustenburg amid violent clashes between union rivals. The platinum producer Lonmin shut down its South African operations on Tuesday.

 

Johannesburg - Police and striking miners were negotiating a truce on a hill near Lonmin's Marikana mine on Wednesday afternoon.

A large crowd of workers sat quietly on the hilltop, and occasionally sent a small delegation to speak to the police, who waited near the bottom of the hill.

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.

The striking workers did not appear hostile. They sat quietly on the hill watching a man dressed in white, who knelt motionless against a thick white pole.

It was suspected that the man might be a traditional healer, since the workers first congregated on the hill on Tuesday 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 have been killed since then.

A Sapa reporter on the scene on Tuesday said the body of the 10th victim, clad in khaki, was found about 100m from the hilltop.

Adriao said a police officer who was injured during the protest on Monday remained in hospital in a critical condition.

Earlier, 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.

Police restricted access to a road leading to the mine on Wednesday morning, and a fleet of police vehicles approached the hill.

Meanwhile, residents of a nearby village continued their daily routines.

Trade union Solidarity expressed concern about the safety of non-striking workers at the mine.

General secretary Gideon du Plessis said the union was grateful to the police for sending reinforcements to the area.

“We believe that employees can work under the current circumstances, but we will continually monitor the situation together with Lonmin's management,” he said.

“Although there is a strong police presence in the veld and residential areas near the mine, Solidarity is of the opinion that the shafts at the mines must be safeguarded to enable employees to go to work without fear.”

If the union felt its members were not adequately protected, it would hold talks with mine management.

Adriao said protecting the mine shafts was not in the police's jurisdiction and referred questions about these security arrangements to the mine.

Lonmin was not immediately able to comment on the protection it was affording non-striking workers.

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu had expressed concern at the violent protests, her office said on Wednesday.

“The minister is gravely concerned, and is condemning the violence at Lonmin's Marikana mine, and will engage with the minister of police,” her spokeswoman Zingaphi Jakuja said.

Shabangu said those who committed crimes during the protest needed to be brought to book.

Chamber of Mines spokesman Jabu Maphalala said the employers' organisation would not comment on the unrest as it did not have enough information.

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

Workers also wanted higher wages. They claimed 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. - Sapa


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