More than 100 mineworkers were arrested at Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg mine on Thursday after violent protests, North West police said.
“They are being booked in at a local police station and the exact figure would be known once that process is done,” said Brigadier Thulani Ngubane late in the afternoon.
Ngubane said 500 police officers had secured the mine and succeeded in containing the violence.
“We are dealing with a mob of about 5000. We have taken charge of the mine shafts and hope there will be no interruption tomorrow (Friday),” he said.
Earlier, Ngubane described the situation at the mine as very hostile and tense. A police helicopter and riot police were deployed to calm tensions.
On Wednesday night, a man was found naked and beaten outside hostel eight. He died later, said Ngubane.
Early on Thursday, mineworkers started gathering in Phokeng, and apparently intimidated and assaulted people trying to get to and from work in the township, outside Rustenburg.
They barricaded No 9 Road, towards Freedom Park, and threw stones at cars, including police vehicles, hitting a policewoman on the head. She was treated at a local clinic and discharged.
Around 8am, the crowd torched the satellite police station in Freedom Park. Police later arrested eight people trying to loot shops in the area, according to the police’s statement.
By 10am, the crowd started looting a bottle store near the mine’s hostel eight, as well as two shops. Two people were arrested.
Ngubane said police were not allowed to use rubber bullets to control the crowd following a directive from the police ministry last year.
This was because of concern over the high number of injuries and at least one death associated with the use of rubber bullets for crowd control.
Police urged the mine management, unions and leaders in the crowd to “sit around the table and come up with an amicable solution to the problem”.
National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the union would meet management on Friday to try and broker a deal in their favour.
“We hope for an agreement that workers will be reinstated instead of having to apply for their jobs as management had indicated,” said Seshoka.
“Tensions are very high…We hope that management will listen to what we are saying because it doesn’t help to be arrogant when the company is losing money.”
Seshoka said the company’s intention to recruit new workers would be a long process as those people might still need to be trained, thus affecting production.
Comment was not immediately available from the mine as it was presenting its results for the half year ending December 2011, which showed it had lost production of 60,000 ounces (1700kg) of platinum since Tuesday due to the dispute.
The mineworkers were fired after a dispute over a retention bonus and an illegal strike. First around 5000 rock drillers were fired after they refused to accept that they would not get the bonus and went on an illegal strike. Then the rest of the over 17,000 workers were also fired for not being at work.
Seshoka said the mine should have foreseen problems when it announced it would not reinstate the workers, but make them reapply for their old posts.
Seshoka said the company had made the mistake of allowing the first fired mineworkers to remain on the premises. This group then prevented the others from working.
Without reinstatement they now had to reapply for their jobs, along with other job seekers, and renegotiate their terms of employment. They would lose benefits such as higher pay for longer service.
NUM saw the rehiring as the company taking advantage of the situation to restructure. The union vowed to take strong action against its members responsible for violence. – Sapa