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JOHANNESBURG - Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer yesterday pro-actively raised concerns about the increasing assassinations of mineworkers that is rocking the platinum belt after an employee was shot dead on Tuesday.

“The company is aware of at least six deaths and three injuries in various shootings across the region in the past three months including three at Lonmin,” the company said.

Lonmin said yesterday that Tholakele Dlunga,  a rock drill operator, had been gunned down at his home in the Wonderkop mine village by an unknown assailant. Dlunga was member of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and chaired Amcu’s health and safety committee at the Rowland shaft.

His brutal murder comes just weeks after Lonmin employee Mvelisi Biyela, was killed execution style in front of his six-year old daughter and wife outside his home in Wonderkop. 

Biyela was an Amcu member who served as a health and safety officer at Lonmin. Zingisa Mzendana, 30, Amcu’s 4 Shaft branch secretary and Lonmin’s engineering assistant was also  gunned down in August.

Amcu was not available for comment yesterday and is scheduled to address the media on the killings in a press conference in Johannesburg today (Thursday). The Star reported earlier this month that the bloodshed was said to be between the AmaBomvana and AmaMpondo tribes  from the former Transkei in the Eastern Cape. 

They were allegedly fighting over leadership preferences in Amcu’s branch at Wonderkop in North West, which was the union's stronghold.  The Star reported that Amcu’s president Joseph Mathunjwa was accused of siding with the AmaBomvana faction and giving them preferential treatment to run the branch.

The union has previously denied these allegations. Yesterday, Frans Cronje, the chief executive at the South African Institute of Race Relations, said  that the violence was in part a function of an internal power struggle at Amcu and to a lesser extent inter-union rivalry.

“The worst case scenario is that intra- and inter-union rivalry combine to create a similar environment of fear and intimidation that laid the groundwork for the Marikana shooting some years ago. Even if the climate does not deteriorate to such an extent any further labour instability in the mining industry comes at the worst possible time for the South African economy,” he said.

Amcu is the biggest union at Lonmin and enjoys sole organisational rights after the company gave notice that the recognition of minority unions the National Union of Mineworkers, trade union Solidarity and the United Association of SA would be abolished.

Lonmin which employs 33 000 employees said it was monitoring the situation and keeping key stakeholders abreast to what is happening. 

“We are reaching out to stakeholders in our reach to say we have to keep the peace and come together to keep the peace. We want to ensure our employees feel safe at home and communities,” it said.

Lonmin was the scene of the Marikana massacre on 16 August 2012 in which 34 mineworkers were shot and killed by police in wild-cat strike for higher wages.  Days before the massacre 10 other people including police officers and security guards were also killed in violent clashes.

The spate of attacks take was taking Lonmin back a few steps, the company said. “We are invested in the success, peace and stability of our company, our employees and our communities. This violence is deeply concerning. We have worked hard to establish a sound rapport with unions and employees. The recent violent attacks across the platinum belt only serve to undo these efforts and necessitate an urgent multi-disciplinary stakeholder engagement process to bring peace,” the company said.

The attacks comes as Lonmin grapples to survive in tandem with its peers due to the  weak platinum that has seen more than 60 percent of the industry operating underwater.
In August Lonmin announced a plan to review  its operations, including the cutting of R500 million in overheads by the year ended September 2018.

- BUSINESS REPORT