Owners of the South African Marikana platinum mine, Lonmin, have suggested that workers do not want to return to their jobs because they are being intimidated. The BBC reports that only about 13 percent of mine workers returned to work at the Marikana mine on Monday after over two weeks of unrest and violence surrounding the world’s third largest producer of platinum.
That number pales in comparison to the 30 percent who showed up for work last week and the 57 percent who went to work over the weekend. The small number of workers at the mine means operations are at a complete standstill. The owners of Lonmin maintain that groups of people, possibly tied to union groups, are walking around the premises intimidating anyone who wants to return to work.
It remains unclear exactly how the violence escalated so quickly after the initial workers’ strike on August 10. 10 people were killed between Friday evening and the following Wednesday, including two police officers. Some people have speculated that the row was started by two warring unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). For either union to be recognized in any official capacity, they need over half the working population to be registered with them, AFP notes.
Possible violence could have been stirred when the newer AMCU tried to win over members from the NUM. Many workers have become critical of the NUM in recent months because of its close alliance with the ruling ANC party in South Africa.
The head of the ruling ANC party, Jacob Zuma, has also been facing tough scrutiny during this violent episode, in which a total of 44 people have been killed and dozens more injured. There have been rumors that workers were mistreated and beaten by police after they were arrested for their part in the strike. Zuma has also been criticized for calling police to control this situation in the first place. That decision has caused many people critical of Zuma to blame him for the miner workers’ deaths.
The presidential election is set for later this year and suddenly President Zuma no longer has such a tight hold on the results. Opponents of Zuma and the ANC party, both of which have been criticized for doing too little to make post-apartheid changes and to advocate for working black populations like the ones massacred at Marikana, feel that the newest tragedy shows the party’s true colors.
There have been some colorful critics of Zuma this entire year, well before mine violence hit the countryside. Earlier this year, two different artists portrayed Zuma in the nude and made commentary on the corrupted and sexualized nature of the current president.
Zuma has countered these attacks and has pledged to create an investigative commission that will uncover how and why the violence occurred. Still, Reuters points out that Zuma’s critics have noted the vast amount of time he spent speaking with mining executives rather than addressing the grief-stricken and stressed population of mine workers and their families.
This past Thursday, a huge memorial was held for the fallen miners and 1,000 people attended to grieve for the loss of life after police gunned down 34 workers a week before. It remains unclear how and why the incident became so violent and what answers will be uncovered in the coming weeks.
Photo Credit: Presidencia de la Nacion Argentina