Mon, Sep 17, 2012 - Page 6 News List

South African police crack down on striking miners

AP, RUSTENBURG and MARIKANA, South Africa

South African police halted a peaceful march by striking miners without violence a day after firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse illegal protesters.

Officers barricaded a main road into Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, and persuaded some 500 miners that their march was illegal and that they should go home.

Yesterday’s protesters from Anglo American Platinum mines wanted to march to Rustenburg police station to demand an end to the violence against strikers. Some carried sticks, but there were none of the machetes, spears and clubs that have marked previous protests for higher wages.

On Saturday, police raided hostels at Lonmin platinum mine and collected homemade weapons. They fired rubber bullets and tear gas to force people into their homes in a crackdown that was condemned by the South African Council of Churches.

Saturday’s show of force follows a government vow to halt illegal protests and disarm strikers who have stopped work at one gold and six platinum mines, helping to destabilize the country’s critical mining sector.

It was the first police action since officers killed 34 miners on Aug. 16 in state violence that shocked the nation.

It was not known how many people were hurt in the violence at the mine of the London-registered firm Lonmin.

Six women were hit by rubber bullets and one was hospitalized as a result, Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka, president of the Council of Churches, reported in a furious statement.

He warned of serious repercussions and said he was holding the government and Lonmin PLC responsible.

“[The] government must be crazy believing that, what to me resembles an apartheid-era crackdown, can succeed,” Seoka said. “We must not forget that such crackdowns in the past led to more resistance and government can ill afford to be seen as the enemy of the people that they put in power.”

Seoka, who also is head of the Bench Marks Foundation that put out a damning report last month about miners’ living and working conditions, said the strike had just cause and was not the work of instigators, as some have suggested.

“The problem will not go away even if this crackdown wins the present battle,” he said. “The ‘war’ between workers who do not receive just remuneration against the enormous amounts of money paid to executives will continue to fester.”

Seoka said the government was destroying four weeks of mediation in which he had taken part. He called for minimal policing of strikers.

Before dawn on Saturday, about 500 officers raided hostels at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine and confiscated homemade machetes, spears, knives and clubs, police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said.

A half dozen men were arrested for illegal possession of arms and drugs in those raids, he said. Another six were arrested on Saturday morning.

Officers first fired tear gas at hundreds of miners who refused to disarm at the hill of granite boulders that has become the strikers’ headquarters. 0Police then moved into the Wonderkop shantytown where residents set up barricades of burning tires to try to block the officers from their neighborhood.

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