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Johannesburg - Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has warned that police will not hesitate to act if striking miners in North West’s platinum mines continue to intimidate and kill their colleagues who want to return to work.
He said the police understood that tension in Rustenburg’s platinum belt was a labour issue, but the police would not sit back while the strike escalated into violence and intimidation.
“We will be here as security. But if the people are attacked, killed and intimidated because they have taken a stance (to return to work), the police must come in and order must be restored,” Mthethwa said on Thursday in an interview with The Star at Marikana police station.
His statements came a few hours after Lonmin announced that several workers had heeded its deadline to return to work by Wednesday.
“Our employees started coming through (to work) on Thursday as part of our call-back SMSes. They needed to indicate via SMS whether they would like to come back,” said Lerato Molebatsi, Lonmin’s executive vice-president of communications and public affairs.
On Thursday, however, Lonmin bowed to pressure from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is the majority union, and announced it had stopped sending the striking miners SMSes.
Management cited security reasons for this decision.
“We have resolved that we are going to stop sending the SMSes and review the process… The return for work is a process which is very delicate.
“People must do so in a way that does not compromise their safety. We are envisaging that in the next few weeks we will see more people trickling in,” Molebatsi said.
Amcu had said the SMSes were proof mine bosses were negotiating in bad faith and that by bypassing them in the negotiations, it indicated they had not learnt from the Marikana massacre in 2012.
Molebatsi appealed to the workers to return, saying the protracted strike was hurting the mine. She did not rule out the possibility of Lonmin approaching the court to stop the strike or retrenching.
“The point is we are running a business and we haven’t done that for the last four months. It is hurting the company, and if the strike continues, we will be left with no option but to consider retrenching,” Molebatsi said.
Mthethwa explained that police had devised a two-pronged safety strategy.
“The first one is security. We will have warm bodies on the ground and instil confidence in those who want to go back to work. (That’s why) from yesterday (Wednesday) the police committed (themselves) to accompanying those (miners) willing to go back to work.
“Secondly, we work within the framework agreement,” he said, referring to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s peace pact in the troubled mining sector.
On Wednesday, Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa accused the government of bias and fomenting violence by deploying the police to the troubled region, instead of a delegation from the ministries of Minerals and Energy and of Labour.
Mthethwa dismissed this assertion, saying:
“Four people have been killed here, so why must the police not come? If he (Mathunjwa) feels that further people must be killed, we don’t.”
Workers have been on strike since January, demanding a minimum wage increase of R12 500 a month across the board. Management has offered a 9.5 percent raise over three years.