Miners declare war

06 September 2012 - 02:14 By GRAEME HOSKEN

South Africa might wake up to another day of violence should threats by thousands of striking workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine be carried out.

Yesterday, about 5000 angry miners, armed with axes, knobkerries, poles and sticks, threatened to set alight anyone or any vehicle that attempts to enter the mine in North West this morning.

The threat was made against the backdrop of almost two weeks of violence in which 10 people - including two security guards and two policemen - were killed before the shooting of 34 striking miners.

Yesterday, miners marched on the main shaft at Karee Mine, outside Rustenburg, and gave management an ultimatum to stop all work at 1pm or face a new wave of bloodshed.

"We are here to collect the impimpis [informers]," said William Stone, one of the miners.

"We are here to collect those who continue to work. We are here to show them and you a lesson. If this mine remains open, there will be blood. We will show you how serious we can be."

The miners faced a thin line of police officers who barricaded the main entrance.

They sang derogatory songs about Lonmin management and President Jacob Zuma and his government.

"When we come back tomorrow no one must be here. Nothing must be working. If it is, we will burn everything. We will burn down the mine, those who continue to work here and any cars," Stone said.

The strikers claim they earn R4500 a month after deductions and are demanding a take-home salary of R12500.

The number of workers who reported for work yesterday plummeted to an all-time low, with Lonmin reporting a 4.5% workforce attendance at all shafts.

The Lonmin share price has shed nearly 20% in the last month, hitting a nine-year low of R70.50 yesterday.

Senior shaft manager Jan Thirion said the miners' threat was like a "loaded gun put against your head".

"They have threatened to destroy the mine and anyone working here unless they get their increases. We want peace, but it is clear they want a war.

"They have given us an ultimatum, but we do not respond well to threats. It is not something we will entertain," he said, surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards.

Striker Sisanda Ndeleni said they would not respond to calls for them to return to work. "Why should we when they [management] ignore our pleas for a living wage.

"First we want our increases and then we will return. Until then we will make sure that no one will work. Anyone who does will be killed. There can be no other way."

As peace talks, involving Lonmin, government and unions continued, Stone asked why the strikers should agree to peace. "Can you eat peace? Can you buy food and clothes with peace? What is this peace thing? We do not want peace and will not accept peace. We need our money before we make peace.

"We will continue to fight and die for our money. We are not afraid to die or to do what we need to do for our money," he said.

Provincial police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said police were managing the situation and would deal with threats as and when they arose.

"It is an extremely tense environment at the moment, with tensions to remain high for a long time. We are appealing for all sides to respect the rule of law. Anything that does arise and is found to be threatening the sovereignty of the country will be dealt with swiftly. We will leave nothing to chance and have the appropriate forces to deal with any situation," Ngubane said.

About 30 police officers on the ground were worried throughout the day that they could be quickly overrun by the striking mineworkers. The heavily armed officers - with about six Nyala armoured vehicles and a water cannon - said tensions were very high.

"The threat here is very real. We are totally outnumbered and although we have forces on standby, there is no way they can respond quick enough," said an officer on the scene, who asked not to be named. "If they want to take us out they can. The anger and the desire for revenge is very high. They have weapons, which they will easily use," he said.

The interministerial committee on the massacre condemned statements that incited violence and caused instability. Without mentioning names, but clearly referring to expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema's comments, the committee said: "Those who issue irresponsible and provocative statements must realise the gravity of their actions and must take responsibility.''

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, who heads the committee, said: "The government has a responsibility to maintain law and order and therefore will not tolerate any irresponsible and unwarranted provocation from any quarters of our society."