Fighting has broken out between rival unions at a rally in South Africa, with police using rubber-coated steel bullets and teargas to disperse the crowds.
Several people were injured in the skirmishes at the Olympia Stadium in the city of Rustenburg on Saturday.
The Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) had organised a rally to mobilise workers and call for fired miners to be reinstated. Violence began when members of the new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) tried to block the rally.
AMCU is a new union that represents strikers who regard COSATU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as too close to mine bosses and their capital. The miners said that representatives from NUM have not been properly representing them during the strikes.
“Police opened fire, people [were] running around in all different directions,” Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from the scene, said. “Teargas, rubber bullets, a lot of shouting.”
‘We know nothing’
After the crowds were dispersed, police were running after people considered “troublemakers” to arrest them so that they could not come back and disrupt the rally, our correspondent said.
South Africa’s mines have been gripped by labour unrest since police opened fire on striking miners in August, killing 34 of them at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine. The strikes that spread after the incident have highlighted the poor pay and living conditions of workers.
The clashes came a day after the NUM announced that 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 the 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 Reuben Lerebolo, a striking worker 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’s 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.
The labour grouping urged workers to attend in order to “reclaim the Rustenburg area from the forces of counter-revolution”.
The NUM on Friday said Amplats had agreed to rehire 12,000 workers who were fired for a wildcat strike, as a strike in the gold mining sector also neared an end following a pay agreement between unions and mine operators.