South African police halt peaceful protest

Police forces persuade striking miners to disperse one day after raids and violent clashes at Marikana.

Striking miners at Rustenberg
Striking miners wanted to protest recent incidents of police violence [AP]

South African police have halted a peaceful march by striking miners without violence a day after firing rubber bullets
and tear gas to disperse illegal protesters, Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reports.

Hundreds of miners heading for Rustenburg police station on Sunday were persuaded by police to disperse, as they lacked a permit allowing them to hold a public demonstration.

Some carried sticks but none carried the machetes, spears and clubs that have marked previous protests for higher wages.

The purpose of the march was to demand an end to the violence against strikers.

The protest was the latest incident in five weeks of labour unrest that has choked off platinum production in the world’s top producer of the precious metal.

Violence and raids

On Saturday South African police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters at a platinum mine where 45 people were killed over a deadly wage dispute that erupted at the beginning of August.

The show of force followed a government threat to halt illegal protests and disarm strikers who have stopped work at one gold and six platinum mines northwest of Johannesburg.

It was the first police action since 34 miners were killed on August 16 when security forces opened fire at the Marikana mine.

About 500 officers raided hostels at Lonmin PLC platinum mine before dawn and confiscated homemade machetes, spears, knives and clubs, police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said.

Half a dozen men were arrested for illegal possession of arms and drugs in those raids, he said. Another six were arrested earlier during the day.

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Military helicopters and armoured police cars have been circling the Marikana mine since a gathering Saturday morning turned violent, Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reported.

The South African government had announced a security clampdown a day earlier in a bid to deal with five weeks of industrial action that has hit the country’s platinum sector.

Jeff Radebe, the justice minister, said the police would act against “illegal gatherings” and the carrying of weapons, but failed to say how the police would put it into effect.

He said the government would no longer tolerate the illegal protests where miners brandish weapons. Such marches have become daily events as the strike at Lonmin PLC platinum mine entered its fifth week.

The wave of labour unrest in Africa’s biggest economy has spiralled beyond the control of the government and unions into a grass-roots rebellion by black South Africans who have seen little improvement in their lives since apartheid ended 18 years ago.

A second day of negotiations failed on Friday at a site near the Lonmin mine, when workers, bosses and unions sat down to try and hammer out a wage agreement.

Lonmin offered on Friday to increase striking workers’ salaries to less than half their demanded basic wage, despite calls for a national strike in the sector, deepening an industrial crisis that has escalated over the past few months.

Frans Baleni, the general secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, said Lonmin had proposed a pay hike for entry-level workers to around 5,500 rand ($660) from 4,600 rand – far short of the 12,500 rand demanded by the workers.

“We are not interested,” striker representative Molifi Phele said as hundreds demonstrators chanted and danced around him. “What he is offering cannot buy you anything. All we want is 12,500.”

The miners at Lonmin’s Marikana operations in the heart of the platinum belt near Rustenburg, 100km northwest of Johannesburg, have refused to go back to work until they receive sufficient wages.

Wage negotiations are set to start again on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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