File picture - A Lonmin mine shaft at Marikane in North West. Photo: Leon Nicholas

Johannesburg - The National Union of Mineworkers urged the newly formed Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) on Tuesday to join the Lonmin peace talks.

“The NUM is committed to finding a peaceful solution,” spokesman Frans Baleni told reporters in Johannesburg.

He praised Solidarity and Uasa for their role in talks aimed at resolving the violence at Lonmin's Marikana mine, but noted Amcu's absence.

“Amcu argues they were sidelined, while they stormed out of peace talks,” he said.

“They should return to the talks and find a peaceful solution. They have nothing to lose except their chains.”

Amcu has partial recognition from Lonmin in one of the mine's four shafts.

Baleni said the wave of violence linked to illegal strikes in the mining sector over the past 18 months had been an attack against the NUM.

It had resulted in the loss of jobs and the loss of lives - those killed were NUM members, he said.

“We are informed by communities near Lonmin that they are terrified, and there is lawlessness in that area,” he said.

Incidents of theft and rape had been reported in the informal settlements close to the mine.

He warned the unrest could spread to other sectors of the mining industry, particularly gold.

“It has already spread,” he said, from Impala to Lonmin, and to other mines around Rustenburg, including Anglo Platinum and Northam.

“Coal is quiet for now, but gold is vulnerable.”

Baleni disputed reports that NUM members were leaving the union in droves to join Amcu.

Amcu had intimidated workers into joining the organisation, and had refused to submit its membership roll for independent verification.

The call to make the mining sector ungovernable had been made by people with nothing to lose.

They had been expelled from their organisation for ill-discipline, he said in a veiled attack on former ANC youth league leader Julius Malema.

In a normal environment, such a call would be regarded as economic sabotage.

Workers should not be misled by opportunists who had “suddenly discovered” that miners were underpaid.

“These are people who have benefited from donations by the same mining houses and spent millions on entertainment. Now, all of a sudden, they have discovered workers were underpaid.”

The NUM had marched to the Chamber of Mines in 2006, as it recognised that demands first made by African miners in 1946 were still relevant in post-apartheid South Africa.

It had called on government to improve both working and living conditions for miners, but political parties had ignored the union.

Baleni also said the NUM had been perturbed by the National Prosecuting Authority's decision to charge 270 miners at Marikana

with a common purpose to murder.

“It reminds us of the dark days of apartheid,” he said.

The miners were arrested for public violence after police fired on a group of protesting workers, killing 34 of them and wounding 78 near Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine on August 16.

Ten people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in the preceding week.

Last week, prosecutors said the men arrested would be charged with the murder and attempted murder of their colleagues, but the charges were provisionally withdrawn on Sunday after a public outcry.

Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba later said the decision to bring murder charges against them had been based on a “sound legal principle”, which had been part of the legal system for decades.

The murder charges were brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the North West, Johan Smit SC.

He told reporters that he had evidence that armed workers went to the hilltop in Marikana to attack police. - Sapa