FEARS OF renewed violence flared at a Rustenburg platinum mine yesterday after scores of people were injured – reportedly because of union rivalry.
Police could not confirm any deaths last night after a stand-off between rival union members amid claims of a fatal shooting at Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats) Siphumelele mine.
Accounts from an affected union and the police were contradictory.
Police said 13 people were injured after four National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) shop stewards, who had been on special leave, returned to work and occupied their union office.
NUM’s rivals, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) members demanded that management send them home.
Police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said a crowd of about 1 000 people attacked the four in their office. Security intervened and shot rubber bullets at the crowd. Ngubane said 13 people, including four mine security officials, were injured.
“Some people were hacked with pangas and sharp objects while others were shot with rubber bullets,” he said.
Amplats said the incident involved a workers’ committee and NUM. “Workers committee members are contesting NUM’s legitimacy at the mine and demanding that NUM vacate its offices,” said Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole. “As they were attempting to evacuate the NUM shop stewards who were trapped in their offices, three security personnel sustained minor injuries.”
A workers’ committee member, Thebe Maswabi, said NUM shop stewards were wearing their red union shirts and had refused to leave. “They argued they had a right to be there because they have members at the mine. Then they waited until workers came from underground and, as feared, all hell broke loose,” Maswabi said. “The NUM people were attacked by workers and shooting ensued when security guards tried to intervene.”
Other workers said NUM shop stewards were demanding to address their members, but no one wanted to see them.
NUM said their shop stewards were attacked by Amcu members.
Spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said a security official was shot while intervening as NUM officials were being attacked.
“These people are not a union any more, but a vigilante group pushing the NUM out and taking over using violence,” he said.