In an unprecedented move in post-Apartheid South Africa, hundreds of soldiers have been deployed in Marikana to assist police in cracking down on striking miners.
The South African Defence Force, SANDF, said they deployed at least a thousand soldiers.
SANDF spokesman, Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said: “The soldiers were deployed at the request of the police to support them in their operation”.
Mabanga said the soldiers sent to Marikana included members from the air force, the army, and the military health services.
In a week that saw wildcat strikes crippling the sectors of the mines, Jacob Zuma’s government said on Friday it would no longer tolerate illegal gatherings and the carrying of traditional weapons.
This weekend saw running battles between police and workers.
According to eyewitness reports, police fired rubber bullets to dispersing striking mineworkers who had gathered in Marikana.
Twelve people were also arrested during a raid at Lonmin mine’s Karee hostel, and weapons such as machetes, knobkerries and other dangerous weapons were seized.
But opposition politicians have criticised the deployment of the army.
Former Defence Minister and now leader of the Congress of the People, Cope, Mosioua Lekota said Zuma had to “urgently answer questions” about the deployment of soldiers to Marikana.
“We, the opposition parties demand an urgent and unequivocal reply from the president of this country.
“It is not a simple thing to deploy armed forces among civilians and it had the potential to threaten the country’s stability,” Lekota said.
Lekota said the deployment of health personnel appeared sinister, as it implied that casualties were anticipated.
He also believed that Zuma, as the Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF also needed to say what preparatory steps the government had taken prior to the deployment.
Sunday marked a month since police opened fire on a group of protesters on a hill near Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, killing 34 mineworkers and wounding 78.
Another 10 people, among them two policemen and two security guards, died the preceding week. A 45th person, a union shop steward, was found dead weeks after the shooting.