Police clash with strikers at South African platinum mine
8/16/2012 6:50:00 PM -
MARIKANA, South Africa (AFP) - Fresh clashes erupted Thursday as police cracked down on an illegal strike at a platinum mine where 10 people have been killed over the last week.
At least one person was being taken to hospital with a gunshot wound, a doctor said, while several others were seen being put onto ambulances.
Hundreds of workers armed with machetes, sticks and metal rods have for the last two days camped on a hillside near the mine run by London-listed Lonmin.
On Thursday they were given a final ultimatum to return to work Friday or lose their jobs. After days of patrolling the mine, police also ordered the strikers to disperse.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, while some of the miners reportedly retaliated with live fire.
As the crowd fled, at least five people were left lying on the ground, according to an AFP reporter, some bleeding from their wounds.
"One wounded is being brought to the hospital," said a doctor at Rustenburg Provincial Hospital. "He has a gunshot wound on the right ankle."
Paramedics loaded more of the injured into ambulances, but Netcare emergency services said it was barred by its contract with Lonmin from commenting on the injuries.
Helicopters hovered overhead as police moved toward the workers, carrying rifles and wearing bulletproof vests. Other police rode on horseback, while residents of a nearby township watched the crackdown from a distance.
The South African Press Agency said that some workers responded by firing guns with live ammunition.
Police spokesman Lindela Mashego could not confirm the extent of the injuries.
"There's nothing to say until we find out on the scene what happened," he told AFP.
Lonmin spokeswoman Gillian Findlay declined to comment on the incident.
"It's really a police operation at the moment so we'd rather they comment on their operation," she said.
The strike which started last Friday spiralled into violent clashes between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is the dominant union at the mine, and members of the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
At least 10 people, including two police, have been killed over the last week.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told the local eNews channel that the AMCU president had tried to persuade the workers on the hill to return to work but they refused.
"After that rejection, they told him that they are prepared to die on the hill. They are not going to make a move, they are also going to ask their children to come and join them," he said.
"We really support that action from the police. We can't have a situation in which 2,000 workers hold the entire 25,000 workers to ransom," he said.
The crackdown came after London-listed Lonmin issued a final ultimatum for workers on the illegal strike to return to work Friday.
The company said the strike has caused six days of lost production, equivalent to about 300,000 tonnes of ore, making it unlikely that Lonmin will reach its target of 750,000 saleable ounces of platinum.