By Siphiwe Sibeko
MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) – South African police stopped ANC renegade Julius Malema from addressing striking miners on Monday as the government intensified efforts to contain labour unrest at mines in the world’s top platinum producer.
The strife has cost the industry 4.5 billion rand in lost output, President Jacob Zuma said, as two mines reopened but there was still no end in sight to a deadly strike at world No. 3 platinum producer Lonmin in which 45 people have died.
Strikers also said they would keep shut four mines run by the world’s top producer, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), which the company aims to reopen on Tuesday.
“There is no need to resort to violence. I believe we must not encourage that,” Zuma told a conference of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a partner with the African National Congress (ANC) in the governing alliance.
Malema, a rebel expelled from the ANC, has become Zuma’s most strident critic and has urged strikers to make mines “ungovernable”.
Following the government’s promise to get tough on strikers and those inciting violence, police, some armed, surrounded Malema as he arrived in Marikana, 100 kms (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, where police shot dead 34 strikers last month.
Some of the miners gathered at a soccer pitch in the town to hear Malema speak threw stones at a police car as officers escorted him from the area.
Aquarius Platinum’s Kroondal mine and Xstrata’s chrome operation near the platinum belt city of Rustenburg reopened on Monday. But the situation on the ground remained tense, with those miners choosing to return to work subjected to intimidation by striking colleagues, Xstrata said.
The unrest has its roots in a bloody turf war for members between an upstart union and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a key political base for the ANC, but it is now unclear who the strikers are taking their direction from.
One workers’ representative dismissed as a “joke” Amplats’ plan to reopen its Rustenburg mines.
“For us, the reality is that the general strike is on,” Mametlwe Sebei, a self-styled Rustenburg community leader and Marxist politician, told Reuters. “We are going to be demonstrating in defiance. We will not be intimidated.”
Amplats management was “whistling in the dark” if it believed the mines would reopen on Tuesday, he said.
“They can deploy the army, they can be shooting people, shooting old men in their shacks, tear gassing young kids … but let us be clear, there will be repercussions,” he said.
POLICE ARREST 42 STRIKERS
South Africa is home to 80 percent of known reserves of platinum, the price of which has gained around 20 percent since the Marikana shootings on August 16.
Police raided a Lonmin hostel on Saturday and seized spears, machetes and other weapons from strikers. They later used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse groups of protesters. The army has also been brought in to help restore order.
On Monday, police arrested 42 people at a mine owned by RBPlat and Amplats for an illegal strike.
Lonmin said mining activity at Marikana remained minimal and lowered its full-year production guidance to between 685,000 and 700,000 saleable ounces from 750,000 ounces. Lonmin also said it would temporarily close a shaft at its Karee mine, which had been meant to boost output for the struggling company.
On Friday, Lonmin workers dismissed an initial pay offer as way below the 12,500 rand a month basic pay sought by members of the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is challenging the dominance of the NUM.
Lonmin, which is offering increases of between 9 and 21 percent, said 12,500 rand would put thousands of jobs at risk and challenge the viability of the business. Basic pay for most underground workers is currently around 5,400 rand.
Zuma on Monday said that aside from the losses to mining companies, the stoppages had cost the Treasury 3.1 billion rand.
The ANC has criticised companies for paying lip service to the mining charter, which seeks to give workers and communities a bigger share of mineral wealth and rectify disparities of white apartheid rule.
“Mining remains the bedrock of the South African economy, and yet the abject poverty and squalor surrounding mining areas remains a matter of deep concern,” it said in a statement.
“The current instability at Marikana thus poses challenges to the growth of the sector and the international image of the country,” the ANC said.