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South African miners face unemployment if strike persist

Monday, August 20, 2012    

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MARIKANA, South Africa (AP) — Miners must return to work today or face being fired from the platinum mine where rivalry between unions exploded into violence that led to the deaths of 44 people in a week, Lonmin PLC said yesterday. Thirty-four were gunned down by police in one of the worst displays of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994.

President Jacob Zuma declared a week of national mourning starting today to commemorate the lives of all South Africans who have died violently, especially the 44 at Marikana mine.

"The nation is in shock and pain," Zuma said in a statement. "We must this week reflect on the sanctity of human life... We must avoid finger-pointing and recrimination. We must unite against violence from whatever quarter."

Hundreds of rock-drill operators have been leading an illegal strike among the mine's 28,000-strong labour force. Threats of violence kept many more away.

Lonmin had initially ordered miners to return to work by Friday, then, after the shootings, changed the deadline to Monday, spokeswoman Sue Vey explained.

Strikers said they were not sure what to do about the ultimatum. The company has not responded to their demands for the minimum wage to be increased from R5,500 ($688) to R12,500 ($1,560).

Last year after a similar dispute over labour representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine, Lonmin fired all 9,000 workers. Then it asked them to reapply for their jobs and most were rehired.

"Because we work as a majority, if the majority goes back to work tomorrow I'm going too," said miner Vuyisile Mchiza.

But "If the majority is not going back to work tomorrow, I'm not going either because I won't be able to go to work while others are sitting grieving."

Jeff Mathunjwa, head of the union to which the strikers belong, said he was not talking to journalists until Tuesday, when asked how he was advising his members.

More than 100 people, miners, their families and local community members, processed past the mine yesterday singing hymns as they made their way to the dusty veld where police officers fired a barrage of shots from automatic rifles and pistols at a group of charging miners on Thursday.

A moving memorial was led by Pastor Sakhumzi Qiqimana of Marikana New Creation Ministry who told those gathered: "Now we have no power to come in the middle of the negotiations of the company and the workers, but we are here now to pray and say 'God forgive us,' and now we are here to say 'This (killing) must stop'."

Police say one of the charging miners shot at them first with a pistol and that they acted in self-defence. Earlier in the week, the strikers had butchered two captured police officers with machetes.

Lonmin said Saturday that it will pay for the education of all children of mine employees killed in the unrest, up to university level.

A presidential statement yesterday said Zuma would announce the composition of a judicial commission of inquiry into the killings and its terms of reference within a few days. It said he had appointed 10 Cabinet ministers and a provincial premier to visit Marikana on today to lead support for bereaved families including the identification of bodies, burials and counselling.

Many people have said they do not know whether missing husbands and sons are among the dead, among 78 wounded, or among more than 250 arrested on charges ranging from public violence to murder.

Zuma urged South Africans to "reaffirm our belief in peace, stability and order and in building a caring society free of crime and violence."

The shootings have South Africans debating their country's magnified levels of violence, and the frequency with which they resort to violence to resolve disputes. South Africa has one of the highest murder and rape rates in the world.

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