Siphiwe Sibeko and Sapa

THOUSANDS of striking miners armed with machetes and sticks faced off with police yesterday at the Marikana mine after Lonmin halted production following the deaths of 10 people in fighting between rival unions.

Lonmin has threatened to sack 3 000 rock-drill operators if they fail to end a wildcat pay strike that started on Friday at its flagship mine in North West.

The illegal stayaway and the union clashes have forced Lonmin to halt mining at all its local operations. Yesterday, scores of police backed by helicopters lined up opposite a crowd of around 2 500 miners who had taken up positions outside the mine.

“The situation is stable but tense. We are busy with negotiations and maintain a high visibility in the area,” national police spokesman Dennis Adrio said.

Lonmin secured a court order compelling the miners to return to work yesterday.

“If we believe that this criminal activity is still continuing and that rock-drill operators are still on this illegal strike we will have no option but to issue the ultimatum,” Lonmin executive vice-president Barnard Mokwena said.

The strikers have not made their demands explicit, although much of the bad blood stems from a turf war stretching across the platinum industry between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu was “gravely concerned” about the violent protests, her office said yesterday. She said the law needed to take its course and those who committed crimes during the protest must be brought to book.

“The minister is gravely concerned and is condemning the violence at Lonmin’s Marikana mine and will engage with the minister of police,” her spokeswoman, Zingaphi Jakuja, said.

Chamber of Mines spokesman Jabu Maphalala said the employers’ organisation did not have enough information to comment.

Lonmin shares slid 0.88 percent to R90.33 on the JSE yesterday.