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More cops deployed to platinum belt in firms’ hopes of miners’ return

Additional police were deployed to the platinum belt on Tuesday to provide security for thousands of striking miners who are hoped to start returning to work this week, in defiance of orders from their union, a police spokesperson said.

Thulani Ngubane, the main police spokesperson in the platinum mining town of Rustenburg, north-west of Johannesburg, also said police had set up park-and-ride facilities around the platinum mines to handle the numbers of arrivals. 

No violence was reported overnight in the Rustenburg platinum belt where three non-striking miners were killed, North West police said on Tuesday morning.

“Nothing new happened in the area,” Brigadier Thulane Ngubane said.

Six non-striking miners were also stabbed while on their way to work on Monday. Three miners, and one of their wives, were killed in separate incidents since Sunday. A 60-year-old miner was stabbed to death, another miner died after being set alight, and a third mineworker and his wife were strangled to death.

Fears
Fears of friction between striking miners and those wanting to resume work arose when the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) objected to employers approaching miners with their wage offer directly in a bid to end the strike. Impala Platinum, Anglo American Platinum, and Lonmin had called on Amcu to exercise responsible leadership.

“We recognise the right to strike as a fundamental right of employees, a right which has been respected throughout the dispute,” they said. “But we have a responsibility to communicate directly with our employees … our employees wish to return to work but have expressed a fear of continued intimidation and violence.”

The companies urged Amcu to recognise and uphold the rights of those who wanted to work.

The strike is the longest and costliest ever on South Africa’s mines, highlighting discontent among black miners who feel they are still not reaping the benefits of the country’s mineral wealth two decades after apartheid ended.

Losses
Amcu members at Implats, Lonmin, and Amplats have been on strike since January 23 demanding a basic salary of R12 500 a month, which has cost the companies about R14.4-billion in revenue and workers have given up over R6.4-billion in earnings.

It has hit 40% of global platinum supplies and dented already sluggish growth in the country.

Lonmin already said it was hoping to restart on May 14 if enough of its workers indicated their willingness to accept the offer by Thursday, and non-Amcu union sources told Reuters on Friday managers had been visiting shafts.

The memo said striking employees could still “indicate their intention to accept the offer”.

A showdown is looming on South Africa’s restive platinum belt as Amcu’s leaders maintain that most of their roughly 70 000 striking members are not happy with the latest offer. Its officials were not immediately available for comment on Saturday.

‘Security plan’
But the companies, betting that the rank and file are keen to return after more than three months without pay, have been going directly to the employees through campaigns that have included SMS surveys.

The Lonmin memo said a “security plan is in place” and that buses would be provided to bring workers back.

The memo also stated security would be regarded as crucial as the companies say Amcu is using violence and intimidation to keep its members in line – allegations the union has denied.

Implats said last Thursday it was also conducting an SMS vote on the offer.

The companies are offering increases of up to 10% that they say would raise the overall minimum pay package to R12 500 a month by July 2017, including cash allowances such as for housing.

Marikana massacre
Amcu had initially demanded an immediate increase to R12 500 in basic wages, excluding allowances, but softened that stance in March to staggered increases that would amount to R12 500 within three or four years – still a third more than what the companies are offering in basic salaries.

The R12 500 demand stems from a violent wildcat strike in Marikana near Rustenburg in August 2012, where Lonmin workers demanded R12 500 as a basic monthly salary.

Forty-four people were killed during the strike. Thirty-four mineworkers were killed on August 16 2012, when police fired on them while allegedly trying to disarm and disperse them. Ten people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed during the preceding week. President Jacob Zuma appointed retired judge Ian Farlam to chair a commission probing the 44 deaths. – Reuters, AFP

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