Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

Platinum-Belt Deaths Evoke Past Violence for S. Africa Union

Updated on
  • Lonmin joins call to end shootings after return of violence
  • At least six union members recently killed in region

The top mine-labor group in South Africa’s platinum belt hired private investigators and offered a cash reward for information on a series of shootings that killed at least six union members.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union doesn’t know what’s motivating the murders in the mining district that contains the world’s richest platinum deposits, President Joseph Mathunjwa told reporters on Thursday. The group disputes the suggestion that the killings are related to internal disputes and is seeking a meeting with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula to discuss solutions, he said.

The shootings in the past three months have revived concerns about violence in the region five years after police shot 34 people in a single day near Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum operations. Ten other people were killed in the lead-up to the shooting. It was also a seminal point for AMCU, an upstart union that rose to become the majority group in South Africa’s platinum mines following the massacre.

“Once again Marikana is becoming a killing field,” Mathunjwa said.

The Chamber of Mines, South Africa’s mining lobby group, on Wednesday expressed concern about the recent killings, many of which were “assassination-style incidents,” it said.

The shootings may be driven by political friction ahead of the ruling African National Congress’s leadership conference in December, as well as pressures linked to pending job cuts and other challenges facing the platinum industry, said David van Wyk, lead researcher at the Johannesburg-based Bench Marks Foundation, a civil society group.

Escalating Killings

“We’re very concerned about the escalation of the killings,” he said. “There are many variables at play here and it can lead to a bloodbath.”

The campaign to succeed Jacob Zuma as leader of the ANC is intensifying with Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a director of Lonmin at the time of the Marikana police shooting, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former chairwoman of the African Union Commission and Zuma’s ex-wife, currently the leading contenders.

The South African Police Service is still investigating the crimes, Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said by phone.

AMCU surpassed the historically powerful National Union of Mineworkers as the majority platinum union after the Marikana shootings and a violent five-month strike that crippled the operations of the world’s three largest producers in 2014. Members of both unions have been killed in sporadic incidents in the years since.

Lonmin is aware of at least six deaths and three injuries in various shootings across the region in the past three months, including three at the company, it said in an emailed statement this week. In the latest incident, an employee died after being shot by an unidentified assailant on Tuesday, it said.

Lonmin has engaged with the Department of Mineral Resources, police and AMCU to restore stability in the area, Chief Executive Officer Ben Magara said.

“We have worked hard to establish a sound rapport with unions and employees,” he said. “The recent violent attacks across the platinum belt only serve to undo these efforts.”

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