Policemen in teargas and dust open fire on striking miners at the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg. Photo: AP

Rustenburg - Lonmin mine must take responsibility for the escalation of conflict at its Marikana mine, the Bench Marks Foundation said in an open letter on Tuesday.

“By not entering into negotiations with the workers, Lonmin has to bear a heavy burden of responsibility for the escalation of conflict and the tragic death of 44 people,” it wrote.

The foundation said it was shocked at how Lonmin had handled the conflict with its workers “and over the complete lack of empathy shown after the killings in Marikana”.

Police opened fire while trying to disperse workers gathered on a hill near the mine on Thursday, killing 34 of them and wounding 78.

Another 260 were arrested on a charge of public violence, and remain in custody.

In the week leading up to the shooting, another 10 people - including two police officers and two security guards - were killed in protests.

The protests were 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.

“Lonmin must retract their insensitivity towards the grieving families and apologise for their lack of empathy and harsh response, especially by giving ultimatums to grieving workers to return to work immediately,” the foundation said.

Lonmin and other platinum-producing companies in the area bore responsibility for the negative affects of mining on the lives of people in the Bojanala Platinum district municipality.

“The Marikana tragedy cannot be understood without looking at the negative economic, social and environmental impacts of platinum mining for both workers and local communities in the area.”

The foundation said employees in the platinum mines, in particular the rock-drill operators, worked under very dangerous conditions and received low remuneration.

“The workers who took to the hill in Marikana were simply demanding a living wage and a decent life.”

It said most of the workers at platinum mines lived in informal settlements.

A recent study on platinum mining in Bojanala Platinum district municipality, conducted by the foundation, found that both workers and local communities did not see platinum mining improving their lives.

“Unless this situation is turned around, conflicts over wages and lack of local development will continue to erupt.”

The Bench Mark Foundation recommended that Lonmin:

* Immediately meet with workers to find a negotiated solution to the situation;

* Make a public statement that it did not condone violence and the killing of workers to settle industrial disputes

* Compensate those who had lost their breadwinners by paying them the equivalent of the person's income for the next 20 years.

* Contribute 10 percent of profits towards community development, with community development committees deciding what should be done and how. - Sapa