Miners risk lives returning to work

AFTER 16 weeks without an income, workers on the platinum belt are willing to risk their lives to return to work.

Three have already died, prompting the police to get more boots on the ground from tomorrow as increasing numbers of cash-strapped miners are expected to report for duty in the coming days.

Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara confirmed that one employee was killed yesterday while attempting to return to work.

The firm, together with Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, yesterday called this a strike-related death and criticised the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) for statements that seemed to incite violence and intimidation.

Magara, together with Impala chief executive Terence Goodlace and Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith, claimed at least 20 reported acts of assault over the last two days, and a number of serious incidents of intimidation against employees and bus operators providing transport to mining company employees.

Rival trade union the National Union of Mineworkers said two more workers had died in the area and they did not trust the police to protect them. They want Lonmin to ensure the safety of returning workers.

One Lonmin employee said yesterday things were getting so desperate now that he was willing to risk his life to return to work. Asking to remain anonymous, he said his children wanted him to go back to the mine as they were hungry. He had given up on Amcu’s demand of R12500 a month.

Others said they would persevere and regarded those returning to the mines as traitors.

Magara, Goodlace and Griffith urged Amcu to issue a public statement requiring their members to respect the rights of those who choose to work and that employees returning to work must not be harmed.

The companies have started talking to workers directly, using SMSs and sending teams to some of the rural areas workers hail from.

This after talks with Amcu to end the strike broke down late last month. By yesterday afternoon the Ministry of Police said it would send in more officers.

“Visible policing will be intensified from Wednesday [tomorrow], the date that Lonmin hopes that striking mineworkers will return to work,” the ministry said.

“There will be increased patrols along the routes that workers use to get to the mines and police vehicles will escort buses carrying workers,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said.

Lonmin said yesterday it was preparing to get back to business, despite fears of more violence.

It was starting up smelting operations and anticipated workers would return by this week. If the strike did not end soon, Magara said restructuring and job losses would be inevitable. – TJ Strydom, Phetane Rapetswane and Lehlohonolo Tau

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