File image: Reuters

At least 37 people were arrested during a protest at mining company Xstrata in the North West on Tuesday, police in the province said.

“They embarked on a rampage and started stoning and barricading the road that leads to Xstrata,” spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubani said.

There were no injuries to the group of about 200, he said.

However, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) issued a statement in which it claimed police used live ammunition and that there were injuries.

But in a follow-up interview, Numsa spokesman Steve Nhlapo said though Numsa stood by the claim that live ammunition had been used since problems started in the area of the Kroondal mine last Thursday, they had no access to anybody who had been arrested to actually prove it.

This denial of access in itself was worrying, said Nhlapo.

“A striking worker was shot at close range by SA Police Service officers, in front of an ANC ward councillor who was in the vicinity to assist in resolving the dispute,” he said in the statement.

He explained that the worker had been shot with a rubber bullet and then detained by police. It was only when a lawyer intervened that Numsa found out where he was.

North West police said only teargas and rubber bullets were used.

Nhlapo said workers went on a strike demanding action be taken against a “racist white employee for assaulting a fellow black worker”.

Numsa said instead of taking action for the assault of a black worker, “they have opted to co-opt the police to do their dirty work”.

Numsa called for the immediate suspension of all the police officers responsible for this “ridiculous shooting of striking workers”.

The union is also worried by what it described as a growing trend of “some trigger-happy officers to use excessive force, particularly live ammunition during the course of industrial disputes”.

Comment and further information could not be immediately obtained from the company. - Sapa