JOHANNESBURG — South African police have raided homes of striking miners near the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, where strikes have raged for more than a month. The raids give muscle to a stern warning from South Africa’s government that they wouldn’t tolerate any more violence or unrest.
South African police raided the homes of striking miners Saturday, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into an impoverished township near the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana. A South African police spokesman confirmed the operation.
The action follows a stern warning from South Africa’s government that they would no longer tolerate violence and intimidation after five weeks of strikes and sometimes deadly clashes.
More than 45 people have been killed in weeks of violence over a pay dispute at the mine some 100 kilometers from Johannesburg.
A regional police spokesman, Thulani Ngubane, said the aim of the police action is to disarm people and restore peace and stability around Marikana. He said police found weapons and confiscated them.
Rehad Desai of the Marikana Solidarity Campaign says police first went into the community on Friday night and confiscated the miners’ stick-like traditional weapons and arrested eight people. On Saturday, he said hundreds of policemen backed up by the military entered the area.
He says police, shooting rubber bullets, wounded people - including a local representative of the ruling African National Congress.
“Today, from reports that we’ve received from the community, six people have been shot with rubber bullets and injured, and have gone to hospital," said Desai. "Five of them have gone to hospital, one of them seriously injured, and that is the local ANC councillor, a female. Two of these six are women, and one of them is an ANC councillor on the settlement.”
Desai said his solidarity campaign aims to bring justice to the families of those killed, to protect the workers’ right to strike and to support their push for a wage hike. He says his group opposes the police action.
“What the state has actually done here is declared war on the workers in the platinum belt," said Desai. "They’ve said, basically, ‘you don’t have the right to withdraw your labor, and we’re going to make sure that you can’t organize if you go on an unprotected strike.’”
The strikes have seriously affected the platinum market and Lonmin’s productivity, and the job actions show no signs of ending after workers rejected Lonmin’s initial pay offer on Friday.
The workers are demanding a raise from about $500 a month to about $1,500. Lonmin’s initial offer on Friday was for far less.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the union credited with starting the strike, has said the situation has escalated and that they now want President Jacob Zuma to call a top-level meeting.