MARIKANA, South Africa, Sep 19 – South African police fired rubber bullets at protesters on Wednesday at a top platinum mine, a day after Lonmin workers called off a deadly strike that sparked copy-cat protests.
The fresh violence in northwestern Rustenburg raised fears that the wage hike deal agreed by workers at Lonmin – where 45 people died in nearly six weeks of unrest – had set a dangerous precedent for wage negotiations.
Police spokesman Dennis Adriao said 22 people were arrested and several protests broken up at the world’s number one platinum miner Anglo American Platinum which was forced to temporarily close five mines last week.
“They refused to disperse. Police had to revert to tear gas and stun grenades and there was also rubber bullets fired,” Adriao told AFP, about the breaking up of an illegal gathering of around 500 people at an informal settlement.
“They were throwing stones and trying to destroy property,” he added.
The clashes flared shortly after workers at the nearby Lonmin-owned Marikana mine agreed to return underground, after sealing a pay hike deal late Tuesday following more than three weeks of talks.
The paralysed British firm became the epicentre of spiralling tensions in the mining region after police gunned down 34 protesters last month which sent shockwaves around the world with its echoes of apartheid brutality.
The workers’ wage demands and threats of deeper strike action were taken up by other gold and platinum miners, raising fears of a major economic fall-out as the rising tensions forced several shaft closures over safety fears.