Marikana: Negotiators meet for 'peace talks'

Officials have brokered closed-door talks between workers and management of Lonmin's mine to end a strike where violence has killed 44 people. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Officials have brokered closed-door talks between workers and management of Lonmin's mine to end a strike where violence has killed 44 people. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Almost three weeks into the work stoppage, about 50 negotiators from unions, non-union workers, the mine and the labour ministry met in the Rustenburg town hall, near the Marikana mine in the North West.

Fewer than 8% of the 28 000 employees showed up for work on Wednesday, in a further slide in attendance as the strike hit its 20th day at the plant owned by the world's third largest platinum producer.

An immediate resumption of operations seemed unlikely, with Lonmin insisting that a "peace accord" be sealed before talks start on the wage demands that saw workers first down tools on August 10.

"Today is the day of peace accord and a first step and an instrument to move together. Everyone wants it to be a success," company spokesperson Sue Vey said.

"At the end of the day it's all about public order. We cannot discuss wages when people are intimidated.
It's all a matter of 'it has to go back to normality before anything can be discussed'," she said.

But workers – who say they earn R4 000 a month and want R12 500 – insist they won't go back below ground until their demands are met, and some have threatened colleagues who do return.

Lonmin says workers already earn around R10 000 when bonuses and other compensation are included.

'Sensible decision'
Outside the hall, Lonmin employee Benzi Tau said, "We trust that our leaders will convince the employer to come to a sensible decision. So far they haven't showed any sympathy to our need."

Police opened fire on striking workers at the mine on August 16, killing 34, after an escalating stand-off between rival unions that had already killed 10 people including two police officers.

The incident was the worst day of police violence since apartheid.

Mediator Bishop Jo Seoka from the South African Council of Churches nonetheless struck an upbeat tone on Wednesday before entering the venue.

"I'm very optimistic because this is the first time that all the parties are meeting. We are positive," he said.

An official from South Africa's labour dispute resolution agency said the talks would last until Friday.

The labour ministry is facilitating the talks between the London-listed firm and unions including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and smaller rival the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Public violence
Representatives of the striking miners who say they do not belong to any union are also attending.

"We will not move from the [demand] for R12 500," said Zolani Bodlani during a short break from the talks, before he hung up the phone.

High commissioner Dineo Ntoane of neighbouring Lesotho – a country completely surrounded by South Africa which lost four miners in the violence – also came to the talks "to represent the interests of the Basothos".

South African authorities earlier said a miner from another neighbouring country, Swaziland, had also been killed.

The court case for over 250 miners arrested after the strikes continued in Pretoria, where the prosecution argued for a postponement pending further investigation. Ntoane said 25 of these were Basotho.

The men face charges ranging from public violence to murder, while 78 injured in the shooting are set to be arrested once they are discharged from medical treatment.

'Unreasonable'
Police measures to disperse a crowd which had gathered on a hilltop near Lonmin's Marikana mine were "unreasonable", defence lawyer Lesego Mmusi told the Ga-Rankuwe Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.

While leading evidence, Mmusi said police could have implemented other measures and avoided a violent clash.

Mmusi is requesting the court consider the bail hearing of the group of men in detention as an urgent matter.

"It is undisputed that the group had been gathering on that hill every day and dispersing every night. Why didn't the police cordon off the hill at night and in the morning the people would find the place secured," asked Mmusi.

"They [police] didn't apply the reasonable means in this matter. The state did not do its duty and has failed citizens. Even the community there [in Marikana] has been inconvenienced by the police's actions," he told the court.

Mmusi lambasted the state for the current arrangement, whereby only a small group of the people detained appear in court. These men would inform their colleagues of what transpired in court.

"Suppose this matter goes all the way to the Constitutional Court, we will be asked 'how were you representing people who were not in court?' What if one of our clients, say number 29, wants to raise his hand and make a contribution?" asked Mmusi.

Right to a fair trial
Prosecutor Nigel Carpenter told the court on Monday that arrangements had been made that only three people would be picked per police station to attend the court session. The Ga-Rankuwa court did not have the capacity to contain all the accused – now 270 – in a single session. The men arrested following the violence are being held at different police stations.

The defence said that arrangement was an infringement of the detained men's right to a fair trial.

"How is it a fair trial when your bail application is being heard in court and you are not there?"

The number of detained men had increased from the previous 260 because some of the men were being released from hospital and taken into custody.

Mmusi said two of the detained men had gunshot wounds and were not getting treatment while in custody. He said all the men should be released as some were in dire need to get access to vital medication for illnesses including tuberculosis and HIV.

Not doing their job
Regarding evidence submitted by head of the Potchefstroom detectives, Brigadier Jacobus van Zyl, who is leading the investigation team, the defence said the police were not doing their job.

"He was given seven days [on August 20] and he had done nothing. What assurance do we have that he will deliver this time? On one of the days, he even attended the memorial service for the deceased people, we don't know what his business was," said advocate Simon Hlahla, for the group of men.

"He [Van Zyl] got his bite at the cherry and he let it rot. Now he wants to get a fresh cherry. What assurance do we have that he will deliver?" Van Zyl was called in as the first state witness on Monday. He supported the state's application for the bail hearing to be postponed for a further seven days.

Only a few men from the group were in court because the room was not big enough to accommodate all of them. Those who appeared would have to convey what happened to the others. – Sapa-AFP

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