File image: Reuters

A police helicopter and riot police were trying to control thousands of angry fired mineworkers at Impala Platinum's Rustenburg mine on Thursday, North West police said.

“The public order police and police chopper are monitoring the situation currently, which is very hostile, volatile and tense,” Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said in a statement.

On Wednesday night, a man was found naked and beaten outside hostel eight. He died later, Ngubane continued.

Early on Thursday, mineworkers started gathering in Phokeng, and apparently intimidated and assaulted people trying to get to and from work in the township, outside Rustenburg.

They barricaded No 9 Road, towards Freedom Park, and threw stones at cars, including police vehicles, hitting a policewoman on the head. She was treated at a local clinic and discharged.

Around 8am, the crowd torched the satellite police station in Freedom Park. Police later arrested eight people trying to loot shops in the area, according to the police's statement.

By 10am, the crowd started looting a bottle store near the mine's hostel eight, as well as two shops. Two people were arrested.

“We will keep reinforcing our forces by adding more members of the police to take full control of the situation,” said Ngubane, adding that officers were being called from other areas.

Earlier, he said they were not allowed to use rubber bullets to control the crowd following a directive from the police ministry last year.

This was because of concern over the high number of injuries and at least one death associated with the use of rubber bullets for crowd control.

Police urged the mine management, unions and leaders in the crowd to “sit around the table and come up with an amicable solution to the problem”.

Comment was not immediately available from the mine as it was presenting its results for the half year ending December 2011, which showed it had lost production of 60,000 ounces (1700kg) of platinum since Tuesday due to the dispute.

The mineworkers were fired after a dispute over a retention bonus and an illegal strike. First around 5000 rock drillers were fired after they refused to accept that they would not get the bonus and went on an illegal strike. Then the rest of the over 17,000 workers were also fired for not being at work.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said over the phone the mine should have foreseen problems when it announced it would not reinstate the workers, but make them reapply for their old posts.

Seshoka said the company had made the mistake of allowing the first fired mineworkers to remain on the premises. This group then prevented the others from working.

Without reinstatement they now had to reapply for their jobs, along with other job seekers, and renegotiate their terms of employment. They would lose benefits such as higher pay for longer service.

NUM saw the rehiring as the company taking advantage of the situation to restructure. The union vowed to take strong action against its members responsible for violence. - Sapa