Miners’ bloody warning

Graeme Hosken

CONCERNS over further bloodshed at Lonmin mine resurfaced yesterday when about 5000 angry miners, armed with axes, knobkerries, poles and sticks, threatened to set alight every person or vehicle trying to enter the mine premises today.

Their threats come against the backdrop of nearly two weeks of violence, in which 10 people, including two security guards and two policemen, were killed in the run-up to the shooting of 34 miners last month.

Yesterday, the miners marched on the main shaft at Karee Mine outside Rustenburg and gave the mine an ultimatum to stop all work at 1pm or face an unprecedented wave of bloodshed.

“We are here to collect the impimpis [informers],” miner Andrew Stone said.

“We are here to collect those who continue to work.

“We are here to show them and you a lesson. If this mine remains open, there will be blood.

“We will show you how serious we can be.”

The miners, singing derogatory songs about Lonmin’s management and President Jacob Zuma and his government, confronted a thin line of police who barricaded the main entrance.

They demanded salary increases – or warned that blood would flow.

“When we come back [today] no one must be here. Nothing must be working. If it is we will burn everything.

“We will burn down the mine, those who continue to work here and any cars who bring people here,” Stone said.

The strikers claim they earn R4500 after deductions and are demanding a take-home salary of R12500.

The mine’s management appears to be refusing to budge on the salary issue.

Yesterday’s mass march saw the number of workers arriving for work plummet to an all-time low, with Lonmin reporting a 4.5% attendance across all shafts.

The mine employs about 24000 people, with most of those on strike being rock drillers.

Senior shaft manager Jan Thirion said the miners’ threat was like “having a loaded gun put against your head”.

“They have threatened to destroy the mine and anyone working here unless they get their increases.

“We want peace, but it is clear they want a war,” he said.

“They say they will only come back to work if they get paid, but it does not work like that.

“They have given us an ultimatum, but we do not respond well to such threats.

“It is not something we will entertain,” he said, surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards.

Striker Sisanda Ndeleni said they would not respond to management’s calls for them to return to work.

“Why should we when they [management] ignore our pleas for a living wage.

“First we want our increases and then we will return.

“Until then, we will make sure that no one will work.

“Anyone who does and is caught will be killed. There can be no other way,” he said.

Provincial police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said the police were managing the situation and would deal with threats as and when they arose.

“It is an extremely tense environment at the moment with tensions likely to remain high for a long time. “We are appealing for all sides to respect the rule of law.

“Anything that does arise [violence], threatening the sovereignty of the country, will be dealt with swiftly.

“We will leave nothing to chance and have the appropriate forces to deal with any situation,” Ngubane said.

However, the group of about 30 police officers on the ground were worried throughout the day that they could be quickly overrun.

The heavily armed officers, with about six inyala armoured vehicles and a water cannon, said the tension was very high.

“The threat here is very real. We are totally outnumbered and although we have forces on standby, there is no way they can respond quickly enough,” a policeman, who did not want to be named, said.

“If they want to take us out, they can. The anger for that and the desire for revenge is very high.

“They have weapons which they will easily use,” he said.

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