The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and other Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliates led a march to Olympia Stadium in Rustenburg this weekend and were met by striking mineworkers from the nearby Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mine.
Blocking their entry to the stadium, strikers pelted approaching marchers with stones while burning T-shirts bearing Cosatu and NUM insignia.
After a tense standoff between the two parties, members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse those blocking the Cosatu-led march.
Minor injuries were reported by both sides as clashes broke out between protesters and Cosatu members.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there is something sinister going on here. The NUM wants to normalise this situation and we are being prevented from doing so," NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka told the Mail & Guardian on Sunday.
The march came hours after Amplats announced its decision to rehire 12 000 striking workers who were dismissed after several weeks of industrial action at the mine.
The area has been a hotbed of violence since August when a wildcat strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine culminated in the killing of 34 miners at the hands of police on August 16.
Suppressing the people
Seshoka said those blocking the Cosatu march over the weekend were nothing but "counter-revolutionaries" and "attention-seekers".
"We don't organise criminals or the unemployed," he added.
"If you looked at the people at that march there were many young people – too young to even be employed at the mine."
But Mametlwe Seibei, an executive member of the Democratic Socialist Movement – a group claiming to represent striking workers at Amplats and surrounding areas – said the Cosatu march was a witch-hunt.
"They are getting police involved to suppress the people. This whole thing is a set up," Seibei told the M&G.
"The march was about attacking people who have broken ranks within the NUM and Cosatu."
Seibei said all efforts by the NUM and Cosatu affiliates in the North West region were attempts to suppress dissatisfied workers.
"These organisations are no longer negotiating on behalf of workers – they are merely power hungry."
Seibei added the movement would continue its efforts to ensure workers were treated fairly.
"We have made it very clear: We will not allow this to become a political football – this is about people," he added.
But both the NUM and Cosatu accused the organisation of themselves exploiting workers for their own political ends.
"Who are the Democratic Socialist Movement? They are nobody, they want to do this to gain standing and formally launch their poltical party," Seshoka said.
Not going to end
Professor Steven Friedman, director at the University of Johannesburg's Centre for the Study of Democracy, said the events unfolding in the North West were indicative of the current political climate.
"This is what happens in labour federations over the world," he told the M&G.
"Workers will rebel against their union when they feel they are no longer being heard. It is up to Cosatu to prove if they have complete legitimacy in this area."
Although Friedman underplayed the possibility of events in the North West mining belt impacting other political events in the country, he did say it would be best to be brought under control "as a matter of urgency".
But it would seem tensions will continue to flare for the foreseeable future as both the NUM and Democratic Socialist Movement have vowed not to back down.
"It looks like we could go back every week – this is not going to end. These people must know whose territory they are in," Seshoka said.