South African police have fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas to disperse striking miners trying to prevent a rally by the country’s main labour grouping.
Bullet casings littered the ground and a helicopter circled above, with police sirens howling, as the protesters were chased into the area surrounding a stadium in northwestern Rustenburg.
The protesters were trying to prevent a rally by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the country’s main umbrella union organisation.
The strikers say they are unhappy with the way unions have been representing their interests. A wave of wildcat strikes that has shaken the mining sector since August has seen workers spurn the main National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Cosatu’s main affiliate.
The clashes broke out after police cleared around 300 people from the stadium where union T-shirts were set alight, and blocked the entrance with armoured vans.
An Agence France-Presse photographer saw a man dressed in Cosatu’s red colours bleeding after he had been beaten up and a correspondent saw at least eight protesters bundled into a police truck after the crackdown.
‘We are here to demonstrate … we the striking mineworkers are tired of NUM,’ Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) worker Reuben Lerebolo told AFP.
The clashes came a day after the NUM announced it had reached a deal with the world’s number one platinum producer Amplats to rehire 12,000 workers who were fired for a wildcat strike.
But striking workers said they were not aware of the deal, which would signal a further winding down of a wave of wildcat strikes that have rocked platinum and gold mines since August.
‘We know nothing about it. We were not consulted, we only heard about it on the radio,’ said Lerebolo, carrying a poster stating ‘NUM we are tired of you’.
‘We can’t go to work until our demands are met,’ he said.
Cosatu staged the Saturday march and rally in a bid to regain its authority in the area after workers snubbed the NUM in the recent strikes and to demand that fired workers be reinstated.