15 September 2012

South Africa vows clampdown on Marikana mine unrest

From BBC: 14 September 2012

South Africa vows clampdown on Marikana mine unrest

Striking miners in Marikana. Photo: 14 September 2012
The Marikana miners have been striking for five weeks, demanding better pay

South Africa's government has announced a raft of measures to clamp down on continuing unrest in the mining sector.

It warned it would crack down "very swiftly" on anyone involved in an illegal gathering or carrying weapons.

However, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said that this did not amount to a state of emergency.

The move came as striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine rejected a pay offer from the management and some unions threatened a general strike.

The mining unrest has been marked by violent clashes, including the shooting dead of 34 striking miners by police at Marikana in August. The unrest has since spread to other gold and platinum mines in South Africa - a major exporter of precious minerals.

Production has been severely hit with several mines closed. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Friday warned that the continuing unrest could hurt economic growth, jobs and investor confidence in Africa's biggest economy.

The new measures were announced following a meeting of ministers representing the security cluster in President Jacob Zuma's cabinet.

The strike has seen hundreds of protesting workers brandishing sticks and machetes march from mine to mine around Marikana and other areas, threatening anyone reporting for work.

Earlier on Friday, the Marikana miners rejected the pay offer by the Lonmin management at a rally on a hill near the mine.

Armed miners march on Marikana

They said the proposal envisaged a pay rise of just under 1,000 rand a month - far lower than the 12,500 rand ($1,513; £935) were demanding. Miners currently earn between 4,000 and 5,000 rand.

"What they [the workers] say is that their offer is an insult, what you put on the table is an insult," miners' representative Molisi Phele told the AFP news agency.

"We are going back to tell them [Lonmin], the workers say: 'Thank you for giving us nothing,'" Mr Phele added.

Protest leaders have threatened to launch a general strike if their demands are not met. They are supported by the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is allied to the ANC-led government, earlier told the BBC that it was concerned about the high level of violence and job losses in the mining sector.

In response to the threat of a general strike, the government placed its military on high alert - the first such move since democracy came to the country in 1994.

The strike began at the Marikana mine in August and 10 people, including two police officers, were killed as the dispute turned violent days before the police opened fire.


image of Pumza Fihlani Pumza Fihlani BBC News, Johannesburg

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg says the government's move could heighten tension in Marikana, where miners feel that the authorities have neglected their pleas and turned a blind eye to their living and working conditions.

Arresting thousands of armed protesters is a near impossible task, our correspondent says, as this could escalate into further violent clashes.

Furthermore, charging protesters and processing them through the courts could prove to be a logistical nightmare for the authorities, as was the case when 270 miners were charged for murder and subsequently released in recent weeks, she says.

South Africa's government is talking tough. Its security cluster says it will not tolerate further acts of violence.

While this may help to settle the nerves of international investors worried about the country's stability, the news it not likely to go down well with the thousands of disgruntled miners.

The men and women responsible for mining some of the world's most precious metals say they have nothing to show for it.

They are accusing Jacob Zuma's government of treating their employers with kid gloves because some of its top officials are also mine bosses.

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