The Association of Mineworkers and Constructution Union (Amcu) has distanced itself from the conflict at Lonmin mine and said the massacre could have been avoided had management made good on their commitments to workers.
Speaking at a press briefing in Sandton on Friday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa, said management had reneged on commitments it had made to miners earlier in the week.
On Thursday a violent confrontation between striking Amcu members and SAPS forces at Lonmin's Marikana mine in the North West left 35 dead and 78 injured.
President Jacob Zuma has returned from a SADC summit in Mozambique to visit Rustenberg. The presidency said in a statement that Zuma was concerned about the violent nature of the protest. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa also visited the area.
There has been ongoing violence in the area, with clashes between two rival unions at the mine – the older National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the decade-old Amcu.
Earlier this week Amcu and NUM blamed each other for the violence.
Mthunjwa presented two documents as evidence that the mine had made commitments to the miners that their grievances would be dealt with.
"Management could have stuck with their commitment … The commitment was once you're there peacefully at work, management will address your grievances through union structures," he said.
According to Mathunjwa, it was this about-turn that led workers to refuse to lay down their arms and leave the mountain.
Mathunjwa also slammed the media for characterising the conflict at Lonmin as a clash between the two unions.
"This is an infight of the members of NUM with their offices. It's got nothing to do with Amcu," he said.
According to Mathunjwa the workers on the koppie where the massacre took place were largely disgruntled NUM members who had lost faith in their union representatives.
"It's possible that Amcu members were there but its not Amcu that coordinated the protest on the mountain," he said.
He said Amcu's leaders had been called to the site on Monday to intervene in the standoff between workers and the mine, even though it did not represent those involved in the dispute.
"I pleaded with them. I said leave this place, they're going to kill you," said Mathunjwa, who later broke down in tears.
He denied that it had promised the workers that it could negotiate a wage of R12 500, as has beenreported.
The two unions have been fighting for control of mines in the area. In February they clashed over membership at Impala Platinum mines in Rustenberg.
In the run-up to Thursday's confrontation with police, ten people including two police officers and two private security guards were killed and cars were torched.
Amcu calls for an external inquiry
Mathunjwa also said that recent allegations of links between Amcu and the PAC or the ANC Youth League were "baseless and unfounded".
"We have no relationship with any political movement in this country or outside this country," he said, adding that Amcu was "apolitical" and would " never ever" associate itself with any political party.
However, he also implied that politics had had an impact in how the situation unfolded.
He complained that the security detail extended to Amcu and NUM representatives who had gone to speak with the workers on Monday was withdrawn on Tuesday once the NUM leaders – who are part of both Cosatu and the SACP – left the area.
"You can draw the conclusion," he said.
Mathunjwa called for an independent, external inquiry – not conducted by the South Africa government – to identify the causes of the Lonmin massacre. He also gave assurances that Amco would "cooperate and support any action taken to deal with this issue".
The violence that erupted at Lonmin's Marikana mine had been long in the making, the ANC Youth League said on Friday.
"The signs were loud and clear for all to see during the Impala tragedy," the youth league said in a statement.
"We refused to see them, we were happy to accept then, as we did now, that the problem is and was trade union rivalry."
The league said an exploitative mining regime, capitalist greed and poverty were to blame.
It also condemned the use of live ammunition in public order policing.
"[We] call on Minister [Nathi] Mthethwa to conduct a full investigation to explain to South Africans how it is that police turned on our people and killed them, when the right to life is paramount."
Parliament's portfolio committee on police on Friday said it was too early to blame anyone for the shooting.
"Playing any form of blame game at this stage would be irresponsible and insensitive," acting committee chairperson Annelize van Wyk said in a statement.
"We need to have all facts before we pass judgement. We call on all commentators to respond in a sensitive and responsible manner, and to refrain from making statements that can further entice violence and endanger more lives."
Van Wyk said the portfolio committee supported a request by Mthethwa for a commission of inquiry into what had happened.
The committee also wanted the inquiry to investigate developments over the past eight months at the mine.
Van Wyk said the training of police also needed scrutiny.
"We need to look at the training of police members, [and] relevant equipment in relation to the level of violence they are confronted with."
Violence and intimidation
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said strikes in South Africa were becoming synonymous with violence and intimidation.
"The tragic events of the past week cast a negative light over South Africa and the willingness of stakeholders to enter robust debate," Sacci said in a statement.
The Pan Africanist Youth Congress of Azania expressed shock at the number of people killed in Marikana.
"We strongly condemn the barbaric conduct of the police and the government's indifference in resolving the dispute, which has been going on for more than a week already."
Payco called for Mthethwa and national police commissioner Riah Phiyega to be fired. – Additional reporting by Sapa