x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Only a quarter of workers return to death mine

Search for missing loved ones continues as most employees ignore company's ultimatum.

Striking platinium miners gather at London-listed Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, where police opened fire on hundreds of workers staging a wildcat strike.
Striking platinium miners gather at London-listed Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, where police opened fire on hundreds of workers staging a wildcat strike.

MARIKANA, SOUTH AFRICA // Only 27 per cent of workers answered an ultimatum to return for morning shifts yesterday at the platinum mine where police shot and killed 34 striking workers last week.

But Lonmin PLC said they were enough for it to resume operations that had been shut down for at least three days.

Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, said miners taking part a wildcat strike who fail to report for work on today could be fired.

"By Tuesday, we expect workers to return to work," said Mark Munroe, Lonmin's executive vice president for mining, yesterday.

He was speaking alongside officials from the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

However, there was no representative of the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), seen as the driving force behind the wildcat strike by 3,000 rock drill operators.

"Our priority is to return to normality. We are in consultations with the unions, the NUM, which is the majority union at the mine," added Mr Munroe.

Lonmin's chief financial officer, Simon Scott, said the company had yet to receive any demands from the strikers and the AMCU had not been part of the company's negotiations with workers.

"Our aim now is to rebuild the trust of the workers. We are aware that it will take some time for some trust to be regained," he added.

NUM leaders also called on the workers to return to their jobs but urged the mine to extend the timescale of their dismissal ultimatum.

"We appeal to the workers to return to work," said Eric Gcilitshana, the union's national secretary for health and safety. "We also appeal to the police to ensure visibility so that no one is endangered.

"We have also indicated that we want the ultimatum to be extended."

On the other side of town, many workers were adamant that they will not return, demanding that Lonmin bosses come to address them and their wage demands.

Meanwhile, women continued searching for loved ones missing following the violence that shocked South Africans.

Some of them protested in front of a court, demanding the release of husbands, brothers and sons among the 259 arrested miners expected to be charged with public violence.

Nombulelo Jali, 37, wept hysterically in front of the court and said that she could not find her husband, Themba Khalo Jali, 40. Police had arrested him on Thursday, the day of the shootings, she added.

"We have frantically searched everywhere and we can't locate him. Police took him," she said.

A chorus of wails erupted as lorries carrying the arrested miners arrived, with some women praying, others crying loudly.

The mineworkers were singing in the police vehicles.

Police ordered the protesters to leave the court building and they assembled in the street outside, singing and dancing in front of police officers holding shields to form a barricade at the court entrance.

A horde of politicians, including 10 cabinet ministers, yesterday descended on the Marikana mine, about 70 kilometres north-west of Johannesburg.

They came to help bereaved families make burial arrangements and get counselling.

A group of opposition politicians from a number of parties made the trip to investigate the scene of the killings that the South African Civil Society called "the horror of South Africa's first post-apartheid massacre".

The president, Jacob Zuma, announced a week of national mourning starting yesterday, urging the country to "reflect on the sanctity of human life" and "unite against violence from whatever quarter".

Ten people, including police officers and mine workers, had died in violence at the mines in the days before the shootings.

Mr Zuma has instigated a judicial commission of inquiry into the events on Thursday.

Police say they were acting in self-defence when they fired a barrage of live bullets at a group of charging miners, including one armed with a pistol and others with homemade spears and clubs.

The company said yesterday: "Lonmin can confirm that work at its Marikana operations resumed today as significant numbers of employees returned to work."

The London-listed company's shares have taken a hard hit since the strikes that started more than 10 days ago, losing 18.5 per cent of their value.

Sue Vey, a spokeswoman for Lonmin's public relations company, said it was not known how many of the returning workers were among about 3,000 rock-drill operators (RDOs) who were striking for higher wages amid a dispute that has pitted the NUM, the country's oldest and biggest trade union, against newcomers the AMCU. Nor could she say how many of the company's 25,000 other employees and 10,000 contractors, who were not striking, had showed up for work.

Lonmin had warned on Sunday that yesterday's "final ultimatum was providing RDOs with a last opportunity to return to work or face possible dismissal''.

Last year, Lonmin fired all 9,000 workers when a similar dispute over union representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine. The company then asked them all to reapply and rehired all but a few considered responsible for the strike.