Sipho Masombuka and TJ Strydom
DEFIANT miners at the Marikana mine vowed yesterday (Sunday) to fight to the death, saying they would rather die than go back to slavery.
Their threat followed an ultimatum by platinum giant Lonmin yesterday to 3000 striking rock drillers to return to work or be fired.
On Thursday, 34 miners were shot dead at the mine, near Rustenburg in the North West, when the strikers stormed a line of police.
Five of the dead miners are believed to be from the Eastern Cape, including Phumzile Sokhanyile and two others from Libode.
Several more from the province are among the 78 people injured.
"People have died already so we have nothing more to lose ... we are going to continue fighting what we believe is a legitimate fight for living wages,” miner Kaizer Madiba said. "We would rather die like our comrades than back down.”
Meanwhile, traditional leaders from the Eastern Cape and North West provinces are rushing to the mine to offer support to workers and families and restore leadership following the killings. They will be accompanied by a delegation from the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa).
The delegation planned to meet with mine management and miners to try to restore peace, Contralesa president Chief Phathekile Holomisa said.
"We need to bring calm and peace to the area. We can’t have a situation where people kill each other over salary grievances,” Holomisa said.
"We need to find a solution to this matter urgently.”
AmaMpondo king Ndamase Ndamase flew out of East London yesterday to meet AmaMpondo workers on the Marikana mines.
Royal spokesman Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase said the king would meet some of the indunas (headmen) for a briefing on what had transpired.
"There are many AmaMpondo people working in those mines. We need to get first-hand information on how many died or were injured,” Ndamase said.
Libode’s Chief Mangaliso Bokleni said: "The Libode area is mourning. We are still trying to come to terms with what actually happened.”
He said he was going to Marikana to identify some of the dead miners. "One person has been identified, but we are going there to identify two more bodies,” he said.
As President Jacob Zuma called yesterday for a week of mourning after the tragedy and set up an interministerial commission to deal with the matter, Lonmin refused to back down, standing by a court order it obtained on Friday last week, ordering the miners to work or be fired.
The strikers saw 34 of their colleagues gunned down by police as the miners – armed with pistols, shotguns, pangas and traditional weapons – stormed a line of police carrying semi-automatic rifles and pistols. The police opened fire on the workers in full view of television crews.
"The only thing that will end this strike is a positive response from the management,” Madiba said.
"I am still asking myself why they [Lonmin management] refuse to negotiate with us.
"We only want R12000 for rock drill operators and a minimum wage of at least R7500 for everyone working underground.”
Madiba said they would meet today to map the way forward, adding that all they wanted was to be able to create a better future for their children back home.
Thursday’s incident followed a week-long violent illegal strike by the miners, in which 10 people were killed – including two policemen who were sent to bring calm to the situation and two security guards who were burnt to death in their car.
Lonmin spokesman Barnard Mokwena defended the company’s decision to reissue the ultimatum, saying it only applied to rock drill operators.
"There are many options on the table,” he said. "It is not as if to fire [strikers] or not to fire is all we are considering.”
Mokwena said the wording of the ultimatum flowed from the court order the company obtained earlier to end the strike.
The ultimatum angered the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), a breakaway union from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
"It is too harsh of management to talk in this way,” Amcu treasurer Jimmy Gama said.
He said the ultimatum was "very unfair”.
NUM secretary-general Frans Baleni said the matter was still very "sensitive” and the workers could not be expected to resume their duties under the threat of continuing violence.
Zuma said: "The nation is in shock and in pain. We must this week reflect on the sanctity of human life and the right to life as enshrined in the constitution of the Republic.
"We must avoid finger-pointing and recrimination. We must unite against violence from whatever quarter. We must reaffirm our belief in peace, stability and order and in building a caring society free of crime and violence.”
The interministerial committee, which will be led by Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, comprises North West premier Thandi Modise, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, State Security Minister Dr Siyabonga Cwele and Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Zuma has also called for a judicial inquiry into the matter. His spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said details of the inquiry would be released later this week.
The incident has put a spotlight on the scope of labour problems plaguing South Africa’s mining industry.
Baleni said "there are other hotspots in the platinum sector”, hinting that the risk of a spillover to other areas was real. Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said there were "early signs of the same conflict” in other places.
Chief executive officers of companies in the platinum industry as well as gold and coal miners had a meeting with top government and trade union officials on Saturday to discuss problems in the mining sector.
Police spokesman Captain Dennis Adriao said the situation at the Wonderkop area where the shooting took place was calm, but tense.
He said the 259 people arrested in connection with the violent protests would appear in the Rustenburg Magistrate’s Court today.