By Susan Njanji (AFP) – Aug 14, 2012
JOHANNESBURG — Police Tuesday patrolled a South African platinum mine shut down by the world's third largest platinum company Lonmin after clashes between rival unions killed 10, including two police officers.
Scores of police patrolled the mine as a helicopter circled over the Marikana mine near Rustenburg about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, the commercial heart of the world's top platinum producer.
Seven Lonmin employees and the two policemen officers were killed in two days of violence that started here following an illegal work stoppage on Friday called by one of the unions.
Police said they shot dead three protesters, acting in self-defence.
In a statement Tuesday, Lonmin announced "with regret a serious and ongoing outbreak of violence" in the dispute between rival unions.
Its shares fell 4.08 percent to 710 pence on the London Stock Exchange in late trading on Tuesday.
Police spokesman Dennis Adriao said "various police units were deployed" at the site, adding that a tenth body was discovered Tuesday afternoon in the bushes near the mine.
"It is not clear how the person died, his body was found lying in the bushes," he said.
Miners did not report for work as tensions remained high, company and union officials said.
"There is no work going on. The situation is very tense. Nine people have died in our property. If people don't feel safe they won't go to work," Tanya Chikanza, head of Lonmin investor relations, told AFP.
She did not give statistics, saying only that "production has been severely disrupted".
Two of the dead workers were security guards who were stabbed and had fire bombs hurled at their car. A miner was shot while trying to report for work, while another was hacked to death in his hostel room.
South Africa accounts for nearly 80 percent of the world's platinum production.
But strikes and riots have hit the country's platinum mines -- including Aquarius and Impala -- in recent months, and the violence at Lonmin was among the worst seen in recent years.
The violence at the mine run by Lonmin is part of a battle for dominance between the leading and decades-old National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the smaller Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
The AMCU broke away from NUM -- which boasts of 320,000 members -- and is reportedly trying to recruit members on promises of bargaining improbably huge pay increases.
The battle for turf and control of membership has been seen as bordering on intimidation by some, forcing members to cross the floor out of fear. AMCU officials were not readily available for comment.
Condemning the clashes, the country's umbrella labour movement, COSATU, blames splinter union AMCU for the violence.
COSATU "believes that violence is in this case used as a political strategy to intimidate workers into making political choices about their association."
Observers see the feuding and factionalism in the mining industry, a prime sector of South Africa's economy, as mirroring internal power struggles that are simmering in the ruling African National Congress.
"There is an emerging conflict between South African trade unions, there are power struggles taking place among the leadership of the unions," said labour analyst Daniel Silke.
"The leadership divisions in the ANC is now being reflected in the divisions in the unions," he said, describing the conflict as a "battle between a more populist hard line versus a more centrist philosophical trade union."
Deadly clashes at South African mines have broken out in the past during strikes over wages, when workers belonging to rival unions have not heeded the strike call.
In February, two workers were killed at a mine owned by Impala Platinum during a lengthy strike that shut down operations, but the Lonmin clashes have been the bloodiest.
The mining sector is the biggest private employer in South Africa, whose workforce is among the most unionised in the world.
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