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North West - Journalists have stumbled across the bloodied body of a man believed to be the 10th victim of the violence-torn Lonmin mining areas in North West.
The body was discovered late on Tuesday afternoon as some of about 4 000 striking workers were leaving a stony hill that has been a gathering point for angry Lonmin workers since industrial action started on Friday.
Police had not confirmed at the time of going to press whether an 11th victim had been shot dead near Marikana on Tuesday.
North West and Gauteng police, as well as the army, were patrolling the area, where the situation remained tense, with helicopters hovering above.
Law enforcement agents stayed some distance away from a large group of men - brandishing pangas, sharp-edged steel bars and knobkieries - who sat on top the hill near the Wonderkop informal settlement.
They were seen earlier in the day moving in a large group, singing and chanting.
Journalists were asked to leave their watches, sunglasses and cellphones in cars and not to wear any hats before nearing the group. Female journalists were barred from getting too close to the men. No reasons were given.
Screaming through a loudhailer, their leaders - swaddled in blankets - reprimanded anyone who dared to stand up or walk around the crowd.
The air was thick with tension as the men were asked to allow representatives from the group to speak to the media.
The striking workers appeared to deny reports of union rivalry, telling media representatives they were not acting under any one union’s instructions.
They said they were disgruntled members of different unions, citing failure by their representatives to get them their desired salary raise for drill operators from about R5 000 currently to R12 500.
Although mine bosses maintained they were in the dark about the group’s grievances, the men said they had tried to speak to management during a march to their offices on Friday, adding that an unknown official had been sent to talk to them.
The group claimed they were the victims, citing attacks on them by National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members and the police.
They said they had tried for many years to get salaries raised from about R5 000 to R12 500 for rock drill operators.
When this did not yield results, they had marched to the mine offices in what has been described as an illegal march on Friday. Then the killings started on Sunday.
Alfred Makhaya said: “We’ve been told the employer was giving us a R750 increase but we’re not accepting that. We don’t want anything less than R12 500.”
He said they had been shot at by NUM members when they approached their office on Saturday.
Makhaya said he was still earning R5 000 after almost a decade of working at Lonmin. “I can’t put three children through high school with this money… We work hard underground and deserve much better,” he said.
Lonmin said it had an existing salary agreement with workers and was not going to open salary talks until next year.
“There’s an increase of between 8 and 10 percent due to workers in October, while our salary agreement expires next year. We will not legitimise any criminal activities by giving anybody a platform to negotiate until (those killed) have been accounted for,” said Barnard Mokwena of Lonmin. - The Star