Court frees jailed South African miners

Over 100 workers, held over deaths of their colleagues, walk free from court while peace talks hit a stalemate.

South African miners, arrested after the Marikana shooting, have been released by a Pretoria court while key players refused to sign a deal to end a deadly strike.

More than a 100 miners were held in a South African jail after being charged last week under an obscure apartheid-era security law with murdering their fellow miners, while video of the incident showed it was police who fired on the strikers.

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Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Marikana, said that the miners were part of 270 that were arrested after police shot 34 miners dead.

“Some of them were released on Monday,” our correspondent said, after prosecutors dropped murder charges against them and released 162.

“Very late last night a peace accord was signed, but two important groups have not signed them.”

A worker representative and mediator said that key players refused to sign the peace accord that was agreed on late last night.

Management of the Lonmin mine inked the agreement late on Wednesday with the main unions to end the illegal strike that started in August and that has left 44 people dead.

But non-unionised workers and a key union, whose agreement is essential to ending the action, have refused to sign up to the deal.

“We cannot agree to sign that thing. It shows once you sign the workers must resume work. But we know the workers won’t return,” said non-unionised workers’ representative Zolisa Bodlani of a peace accord on the strike at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine.

Mediator Bishop Jo Seoka said a key union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), also refused to sign.

“AMCU, the union that is new in that sector, was not willing to sign the peace accord,” Seoka said.

‘Peace accord’


It is difficult to take the ‘peace accord’ seriously if some of the most important actors in the dispute have failed to endorse it.

This is no longer just about industrial relations, it is now an issue of preserving dignity and pride for the workers here.

More than 34 miners lost their lives here and to cede on their demands so easily would be seen as a betrayal to those who died.

The non-unionised workers and those linked to AMCU are crucial to any peace accord here.

Disregarding them simply demonstrates one of their most basic complaints – the established union structures and mine management do not adequately represent them and their interests.

Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa reports from South Africa. Follow him on Twitter @azadessa

“Ultimately late at [Wednesday] night it was signed by the the government and other unions. That is the Labour Department, NUM (National Union of Mineworkers), and Solidarity and UASA,” said Seoka.

The accord is intended to end an illegal strike at London-listed Lonmin mine which started on August 10 and has left 44 people dead, 34 of whom were gunned down by police.

“We were told the miners haven’t signed because they wanted to come back to Marikana and talk it through first,” our correspondent said.

Workers are insisting the world’s number three platinum producer pay them $1,479 a month.

“When the management and those stakeholders are willing to discuss 12,500 [rands] we can go back to work,” Bodlani said.

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna reporting from Johannesburg said the standoff continues. 

Lonmin had said it would only discuss wages when a peace agreement was signed. Labour mediators would start wage negotiations as agreed to in the accord, said Seoka.

“The question now is to what extent the strike will spread to other mines in South Africa,” said our correspondent.

Malema charged

Meanwhile, Solidarity, a trade union which largely represents white, skilled workers, laid charges of incitement to public violence and intimidation against Malema at a police station near Pretoria on Wednesday.

Malema visited the platinum producer Lonmin’s Marikana mine, where a deadly illegal strike has killed 44 people [Reuters]

“Solidarity says that Malema’s appearance and his calls for a revolution, resulted in intimidation of miners turning up for work,” our correspondent said.

Malema, who was expelled by the governing African National Congress (ANC) for ill-discipline earlier this year, has capitalised on violent strikes at South Africa’s mines to take potshots at foes such as President Jacob Zuma and push his radical views on nationalising mines.

“Violent protests at mines are not spontaneous. He encourages violence for his own gain. Malema is an opportunist who uses unrest to try to revive his political career,” Johan Kruger, Solidarity spokesman, said.

The government has apologised for the violence and a judicial inquiry investigating the violence is to report to Zuma by January.

After apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa pressed to share the country’s vast mineral wealth with its impoverished black majority. But the hoped-for result has not occurred. 

World platinum prices have risen more than 10 per cent since the August 16 shooting, while Lonmin’s Johannesburg- and London-listed shares have lost more than 15 per cent of value.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies