RUSTENBURG, South Africa – Days after soldiers were deployed, South African President Jacob Zuma’s office announced Thursday that he has ordered military forces to assist police trying to control labour unrest in the nation’s crucial mining sector.
Despite resolution of the longest and bloodiest strike, two more deaths were reported.
Even as miners returned to work Thursday at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine in Marikana, where police killed 34 miners on Aug. 16, labour advocates said police killed two more people: a ruling party municipal councillor who died of injuries from a rubber bullet and a miner who was run over by an armoured car.
Zuma’s office said he was invoking the Constitution to use the military to support police “in the prevention and combating of crime as well as the maintenance of law and order in the Marikana Area … and other areas around the country where needed” until Jan. 31. The notice from the presidency referred to section 201 (2) of the Constitution, which states that “only the President, as head of the national executive, may authorize the employment of the defence force.”
Last weekend some 1,000 soldiers were trucked into the “platinum belt” northwest of Johannesburg.
Thursday morning, police in two water cannon trucks and several armoured cars confronted striking Anglo American Platinum miners at a shantytown where residents set up barricades of rocks and burning tires and logs. Before long, the fires died down and most of the police pulled back. The people dispersed, leaving a herd of goats milling around the water cannons.
Police spokesman Dennis Adriao confirmed that police fired tear gas and a stun grenade on the illegal gathering near Sondela settlement. There were no arrests, he said.
However there was a fatality from the confrontation Wednesday between police and strikers. Strike leader Evans Ramokga told The Associated Press that one miner was run over Wednesday by a police armoured car and dragged several meters (feet) before it stopped. He said the man died overnight in the hospital.
Police spokesman Adriao said he was unaware of the incident which occurred at the scene where police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to break up a march by thousands of strikers. The mines near Rustenburg belong to Anglo American Platinum, the world’s largest platinum producer.
“The only thing we want is to sit down and have them hear our demands,” Ramokga said. He said authorities have refused to give permission for the thousands of strikers among Anglo’s 15,000 workers there to hold a protest march to back their demands for a gross monthly salary of 16,070 rand ($2,000).
Anglo issued an ultimatum for workers to report for duty by Thursday night or threatened to act on a court order declaring the strike illegal. That gives Anglo the power to fire strikers.
“Anglo American Platinum’s Rustenburg mining operations are already under considerable economic pressure, any further delays in returning to work will only increase the risk to the long-term viability of these mines,” it said in a statement late Wednesday.
The Marikana Solidarity Campaign meanwhile reported that African National Congress councillor Paulina Masutlhe was shopping Saturday at the Wonderkop shantytown where Lonmin platinum miners live when police firing from a speeding armoured car hit several women. Masutlhe was hit in the abdomen and leg and rushed to the hospital, where she died Wednesday, a statement said.
Adriao said he is investigating the report of a death. He said police had reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate that several people were hit by rubber bullets in a raid to disarm strikers on Saturday, the day after the government ordered a crackdown.
The directorate already has opened 34 murder and 78 attempted murder charges against police in the Aug. 16 shootings, the worst state violence since the white minority apartheid regime was brought down in 1994. The government has said it is awaiting the outcome of a judicial commission of inquiry that is to report to the president in January.
The solidarity campaign condemned the brutality of police and called for “the immediate identification and suspension of the police officers involved in her (Masutlhe’s) murder. “
“We are also extremely unhappy that, to date, none of the police officers involved in the massacre on 16 August 2012 has been identified or suspended – this is totally unacceptable and unlawful,” said the campaign that includes the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions that is part of a governing alliance with the African National Congress party and the South African Communist Party.
The deaths at the two mines, both northwest of Johannesburg, bring the strike-related death toll to 47.
Lonmin on Tuesday resolved its five-week strike by agreeing to pay raises of 16 to 22 per cent.
The strike already has spread to several gold, platinum and chrome mines, damaging investor confidence in the country that produces 75 per cent of world platinum and is the No. 4 chrome producer and in the top 10 of gold producers.
Faul reported from Johannesburg.