Workers at an embattled South Africa mine have vowed to prolong their wildcat strike, saying that returning to work would be “an insult” to 34 colleagues killed by police, even as the mine operator threatened to fire them over the walkout.
“Expecting us to go back is like an insult. Many of our friends and colleagues are dead, then they expect us to resume work. Never,” said worker Zachariah Mbewu on Sunday, adding that no one would return to work as long as they were still in mourning.
The scene of Thursday’s bloodshed, the worst police violence since apartheid, was deserted as workers at a hostel of the London-listed Lonmin platinum mine said they would press on with their wage demands.
“Some are in prison and hospitals. Tomorrow we are going back to the mountain [the protest site], not underground, unless management gives us what we want.”
Platinum producer Lonmin has given striking workers a final ultimatum to end their stay-away by Monday or face being fired.
“The final ultimatum has been extended to Monday 20th following Thursday’s events,” spokeswoman Gillian Findlay said on Sunday. “Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum.”
Fiery former ruling party youth leader Julius Malema fanned workers’ anger with a speech on Saturday attacking President Jacob Zuma, who he wants voted out in the African National Congress (ANC) year-end party elections.
“President Zuma decided over the massacre of our people. He must step down,” Malema, who was booted out of the ANC in April for allegedly creating divisions within its ranks, told a crowd.
“It has never happened before that so many people were killed in a single day and it became normal,” he added.
Police maintained a low profile on Sunday at the hostel where workers were going about their daily chores, but the anger level remained high.
“We are waiting for a word from the management,” said Fezile Magxaba, an underground supervisor at the mine.
“Tomorrow we won’t return to work unless they listen to our demands of salary increases. “People have died. We are angry. If we return, it will be like they died in vain,” he said.
The crackdown on Thursday left 34 dead, 78 wounded and 259 detained, according to police.
The toll came on top of 10 already dead, including two police officers, in violence blamed on rivalry between unions during the strike to back demands for a wage rise.
The strike shut down production at the mine, owned by the world’s third biggest platinum producer.