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Lonmin Union Official Killed in Attack Near Marikana Mine

A local organizer for the National Union of Mineworkers was killed and a second wounded in a shooting near Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine in northwestern South Africa, highlighting tensions between rival labor groups.

The shooting of the two shop stewards at the NUM office took place this morning, Sue Vey, a Lonmin spokeswoman, said in a text message. The wounded employee is in a critical condition, she said. Lonmin fell 4.3 percent to 282.40 pence in London, its biggest drop in two weeks.

Lonmin’s mines have been a battleground for the NUM and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union as they compete for membership. The NUM, an ally of the ruling African National Congress, has been usurped as the majority union at Lonmin by the AMCU, which represents 70 percent of workers in lower-skilled jobs compared with its rival’s 20 percent.

The NUM has until July 16 to regain its majority among the Lonmin workforce or lose its office and associated rights, a Johannesburg labor court has ruled. That decision followed an attempt by Lonmin last month to expedite the union recognition process “in the interests of peace and security on the ground,” according to the company.

“He was shot right inside the office,” NUM Regional Secretary Sydwell Dokolwana said by mobile phone, referring to today’s incident. Officers are at the scene, said Sabata Mokgwabone, a police spokesman.

Tavern Shooting

The AMCU and Lonmin have failed to agree on how unions will be recognized under formal accords between the company and labor organizations. South Africa’s Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration has scheduled a hearing on June 26 to rule in the dispute.

The AMCU has also had members killed in recent shootings. Mawethu Khululekile Stevens, 46, a local organizer, was shot dead May 11 at a tavern near the Marikana mine, about 70 miles (120 kilometers) from Johannesburg, the union said last month.

Violence at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August that stemmed from a pay dispute left at least 44 dead, including 34 protesters shot by police in a single day.

Massive Escalation

“There’s a huge possibility of a massive escalation of violence,” David van Wyk, chief researcher of Bench Marks Foundation, a Johannesburg-based organization that monitors corporate social responsibility, said in a phone interview.

The situation at Marikana is volatile because of the NUM’s relationship with South Africa’s ruling party, Van Wyk said. “The balance of forces is very uneven. NUM through the ANC and its linkages to the state has access to the force of the state. It can only lead to tragedy.”

Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa’s deputy president, served as NUM general secretary and Gwede Mantashe, the secretary general of the ANC, also held the union post. Cyril Ramaphosa, who co-founded the NUM in 1982, is now the deputy president of the ANC and the second-richest black South African, according to Johannesburg’s Sunday Times. The investment company he controls also owns a stake in Lonmin’s mines.

The government is “very neutral” when it comes to its response to events at South Africa’s mines, President Jacob Zum said May 30.

Lonmin operations haven’t been affected by today’s shooting, said Vey.

The 13-shaft Marikana mine, Lonmin’s largest, was halted by a two-day strike last month after the killing of Stevens, as workers demanded the closure of the NUM office. The same request was made when miners downed tools in March.

“Hopefully they can keep the calm,” Tyler Broda, an analyst at Nomura International Plc in London, said in an e-mail.

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