MARIKANA, South Africa — Chanting miners wielding machetes, clubs and spears marched from shaft to shaft of South Africa’s beleaguered Lonmin platinum mine Monday, trying to intimidate the few workers who reported for duty in the fourth week of a crippling strike whose impact has already included dozens of miners killed by police.
At one point on their 10-kilometer (six-mile) trek, a striker lashed a whip at a man they accused of reporting for work. He took off across the scrubland with dozens of men waving machetes and clubs in pursuit. The man was saved by police officers who pulled him into their moving vehicle.
Meanwhile, labor unrest spread in the country, with an illegal strike by more than 10,000 workers halting operations at the west section of Gold Fields International’s KDC gold mine.
The strikes are rooted in rivalry between the main National Union of Mineworkers and a breakaway union.
At the KDC gold mine, for instance, spokesman Sven Lunsche said the strike started Sunday night and that senior managers met Monday with strikers demanding the removal of NUM shop stewards and a minimum monthly wage of R12,500 ($1,560).
Some 12,000 miners at east KDC staged a weeklong illegal strike to demand the removal of NUM shop stewards that ended Sept. 3.
At a second platinum mine, Implats, 15,000-plus workers are demanding a 10 percent pay raise although they are continuing to work, spokesman Johan Theron said.
London-registered Lonmin PLC said just 6 percent of its 28,000 workers turned up Monday morning at its mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Mine drivers drove around looking for workers to pick up, but the buses returned to the mine empty.
In Marikana, hundreds of chanting strikers descended on one after another of the Lonmin mine shafts, chanting anti-government songs and blaming President Jacob Zuma for the police killings. They were monitored by armed police in riot gear, some in armored cars, others on foot.
As strikers approached Lonmin’s Hossy shaft, police escorted a speeding cavalcade of buses and vans carrying working miners and trucks with explosives as they rushed to get from one mine shaft to another.
Strikers have threatened to kill any miners or managers who do not respect their demand for all work to stop until Lonmin agrees to a monthly take-home pay of 12,500 rand ($1,560), about double their current wages.
Lonmin had hoped many more miners would come to work since a peace accord was signed last week with three major unions. But it was rejected by a breakaway union and nonunion strikers.
The government brokered the peace deal after police shot and killed 34 miners and wounded 78 on Dec. 16 at Marikana, a mass shooting reminiscent of apartheid-era days that has traumatized the nation of 48 million.
Ten people were killed in the week before the shootings: two police officers hacked to death by strikers, six union shop stewards and two mine guards burned alive in their car.