10 people were killed at a South African platinum mine after inter-union violence locked opposing sides into a volatile and guerilla-like clash early this week. The mine, owned by Lonmin, is part of a larger platinum-producing culture in South Africa. The BBC notes that the country produces three-quarters of the world’s platinum and has also been host to one of the most unionized workforces.
The clash occurred between the longstanding National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) at the northwestern mine. A police spokesperson told BBC News that the initial attackers were gathering together 5,000 person guerilla mobs to make attacks on people. The melee quickly escalated to an uncertain pitch and the police spokesperson said this about the incident, “We came under attack. The suspects took our weapons. A shoot-out ensued and during that incident three suspects were fatally injured.”
Two policemen were also murdered after a group descended upon them with machetes, the BBC news reports. The AFP notes that one mine worker was killed in his hostel room, another while trying to report to work, and two more men were killed after bombs were hurled at them.
On Tuesday, the mine was shut down and police have begun to patrol the area as the mine stocks slipped down almost 5 percentage points in the wake of the violence. A tenth victim of the ensuing violence was also found in the bushes on the same day and leaders of Lonmin fear that work will not begin again for some time to come as terror ripples through workers torn between the rival unions.
The unrest began last Friday when 3,000 workers went on an “illegal strike” and walked out on work, sparking unrest between the two competing union groups. The country’s umbrella labor group has posited that the AMCU is responsible for beginning the oubreak of violence in an attempt to force people to join their ranks. The president of NUM, Frans Belani, told the press that the AMCU was taking advantage of poor workers in an area struggling with unemployment. Businessweek quotes Belani as saying:
These people are taking advantage of the common social challenges of people in this area… There’s a high level of unemployment as we know, secondly workers are highly indebted, so it’s easy to go to workers and say that if you belong to us, we will get you.
Mine workers continued to protest working conditions on Tuesday, demanding better pay. Journalists were unable to reach leaders of the AMCU for comment and it remains unclear who perpetrated most of the violence this week. Police officers are planning to stay in the area for as long as it takes to get the situation under control.
This week’s clash is only the most recent in a long string of violent and volatile meetings between mine owners and rival uions. In February, two workers were killed during a strike at another mine, the AFP reports. Yet, Lonmin leads the way in violent unrest. Two security guards were killed on Sunday, and only recently two more guards were burnt to death. In January, three other people were killed in another round of violence that shut down the Lonmin mine completely.
Photo Credit: Jerome Bon