Military deployed in South Africa’s mining sector

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — Days after soldiers were deployed, South African President Jacob Zuma announced Thursday that he has ordered the military to assist police trying to control labor unrest in the nation’s crucial mining sector.

Despite resolution of the longest and bloodiest strike, at least one more death was reported.

Even as miners whistled as they returned to work Thursday at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine in Marikana, where police killed 34 miners on Aug. 16, labor advocates said police killed a ruling party municipal councilor who died of injuries from a rubber bullet.

Zuma’s office issued a statement saying he was invoking the constitution to order 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 defense 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 armored 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 earlier Thursday police fired tear gas and a stun grenade on a gathering of about 300 people near the Sondela settlement. There were no arrests, he said.

Strike leader Evans Ramokga said that one miner died Wednesday after he was run over by a police armored car as police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to break up a gathering of up to 500 worker, but he could not provide further details.

Police spokesman Adriao said he was unaware of the incident, and it could not be confirmed by another independent source. 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.

Gaddafi Mdoda is among the 40 leaders elected by miners to represent them during the strike and through negotiations.

“Until we get the money, the cycle continues,” he said.

Strikes also still continue for miners who work at Gold Fields.

Sven Lunsche, spokesman for Gold Fields, said that 85 percent of the companies 15,000 workers at its biggest mine, KDC west near Carletonville, are on strike and none of them have returned to work. The mine is still open, but not in production.

“We have explained that there isn’t much we can do,” Lunsche said, adding that the gold mine industry deals through collective bargaining.

“The strike is about pay, but it’s also mostly about branch leadership at the mine,” he said. The mine is a part of the National Union of Mineworkers, and strikers met with the union Thursday.

Bandile Memela , a representative for the miners at the KDC west mine near Carletonville, said the meeting with the NUM did not yield enough reason to end the strike, according to South Africa Press Association.

“Yes, we will continue the strike,” Memela told thousands of workers, it said.

The NUM reported Thursday that as many as 10,000 jobs could be lost because mining companies say some of their shafts have become unprofitable.

The Marikana Solidarity Campaign reported that African National Congress councilor Paulina Masutlhe was shopping Saturday at the Wonderkop shantytown where Lonmin platinum miners live when police firing from a speeding armored car hit several women. Masutlhe was hit in the abdomen and leg and rushed to the hospital, where she died Wednesday, a statement said.

The councilor’s death northwest of Johannesburg, brings the confirmed strike-related death toll to 46.

Adriao said he is investigating the report of the 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.

Lonmin on Tuesday resolved its five-week strike by agreeing to pay raises of 11 to 22 percent.

The strike already has spread to several gold, platinum and chrome mines, damaging investor confidence in the country that produces 75 percent of world platinum and is the No. 4 chrome producer and in the top 10 of gold producers.

A declaration ending a three-day conference of the Congress of South African Trade Unions demanded an end to “starvation wages” and “radical change in socio-economic conditions.” It said its 2.2 million members “have had enough of the unfulfilled promise to implement the Freedom Charter.”

The Freedom Charter calls, among other things, for the nationalization of natural resources, including mines.

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