Mixed messages at Marikana

I've spent enough time at the mine in Marikana by now to understand exactly how unclear the situation is in many ways.

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    I've spent enough time at the mine in Marikana by now to understand exactly how unclear the situation is in many ways.

    At the same time delegates from the striking miners have been attending peace accord talks in neighbouring Rustenburg, the mass of miners have been intimidating others into not going to work.

    The best example yet was on Wednesday. Well over 1,000 people marched to the Karee shaft, the march itself was peaceful, but the message delivered to Lonmin management at the shaft was anything but. They threatened to kill Lonmin managers and burn the shaft if it wasn't shut.

    At the same time, the miners' delegates were at the talks.

    The delegates have said all along they're attending the negotiations to get a pay rise, but when I asked one of the delegates how they can reconcile the fact they're attending peace talks while also threatening people's lives they have no straight answer. Much is not what it seems here.

    Here's another example: while Lonmin initially threatened to fire workers if they didn't go back to work, they backed off it and since have been talking peace, with the peace accord as the vehicle for that end.

    But a single line in Lonmin's daily press release on Tuesday signalled a shift in their rhetoric that I think is very significant.

    They pointed out that 40,000 jobs are at risk if the strike continues indefinitely. Lonmin insists it's committed to the peace accord and that it won't be firing anyone anytime soon, but by pointing out the possible implications of an indefinite wildcat strike they have started to hint at what could be to come.

    The law would be on Lonmin's side, the strike is illegal. Lonmin, along with the striking miners and all the unions, have been talking through the peace accord - that some of the miners are refusing to sign - which lays the foundation for them to be fired.

    Of course, everyone is well aware that could set off an already volatile situation, so it may not happen next week, or even the week after that, but it is possible.


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