Police Tackle Intimidation in Tense Marikana ReopeningAndre Janse van Vuuren
The South African Police Service said it will target those inciting strife on the country’s platinum belt as some workers were prevented from reporting for duty at Lonmin Plc after being on strike for 16 weeks.
“We know their names and we are going for them,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a briefing broadcast on eNCA news channel. “Within hours we should be on top of them.”
Lonmin reopened its mines today, even after failing to reach a wage settlement with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has been on strike at Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin since Jan 23. The AMCU wants basic monthly pay, without benefits, to be more than doubled for entry-level underground employees to 12,500 rand ($1,210) by 2017, while producers are including cash allowances in that figure.
Workers were too scared to go to work, Sydwell Dokolwana, a regional secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, said by phone.
“The police are there, but you can’t move from your house to the place where the buses will pick you up,” Dokolwana said. “There are people singing and carrying weapons; they are there on every street pulling you off and forcing you to join them.”
There was no cut-off time for employees to return to work, Lonmin spokesman Happy Nkhoma said by phone. The mines will remain open for a second day tomorrow as safety is under control, Nkhoma said.
Workers wishing to report for duty should be allowed to do so, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone. The union would maintain its demand for a base salary of 12,500 rand, Mathunjwa said on SAfm. “For the last 20 years the workers haven’t seen fruits of democracy, so now is the time,” Mathunjwa said.
He addressed striking miners near Lonmin’s Marikana operations today, less than two years after 34 protesters demonstrating against working conditions and pay were killed by police in a single day.
No violent attacks near mines belonging to the producers were reported last night or this morning, Thulani Ngubane, a provincial spokesman for the South African Police Service, said by phone. Four people were killed and another six assaulted during various attacks last weekend and May 12, Ngubane said in a statement.
Vehicles belonging to staff performing essential functions at Impala’s No. 9 shaft were set alight today, spokesman Johan Theron said by phone. The company’s mines remained closed, he said.
The AMCU has asked South Africa’s labor court to prevent employers from communicating directly with workers about the wage offer after the union rejected their last proposal earlier this month, the producers said in a joint statement.
Lonmin received “overwhelming support” from employees for a return to work after the company appealed to miners by text message and voice mail, Chief Executive Officer Ben Magara said on May 12.
The producers will “strongly oppose” the union’s application, Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for the companies at Russell & Associates, said today by phone. A date for the hearing hasn’t been set, she said.
Amplats, as the world’s largest producer of the metal is known, has seen more workers reporting at its strike-hit mines, spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said by phone. “It’s a trickle, but it is an improvement,” she said, without disclosing attendance figures.
The AMCU has its biggest majority at Lonmin, where 82 percent of the workforce are members, according to the producers’ joint website. The union speaks for 62 percent of Amplats employees and 61 percent of Impala’s miners.
Attendance figures at Lonmin were likely to be low today and will increase during the course of the week should employees gain confidence in security measures, Franz Stehring, head of mining at trade union UASA, said by phone.
“Lonmin’s sole purpose today is to open the door,” Stehring said.
The company’s biggest priorities for the next few days were to perform health checks and safety inductions, Lonmin’s Nkhoma said.
Producers of the metal, used in catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions from automobiles, have lost 17.8 billion rand in revenue and employees 7.9 billion rand in wages due to the strike, according to a website run by the companies.
Lonmin remained unchanged at 261.1 pence per share at 3:28 p.m. after three days of losses in London trade.
Platinum gained for a third day, adding 1.3 percent to $1,473.87 an ounce.