In a show of force, South African police blocked former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema from an event where striking miners were to be briefed on developments about their wage demands in the country’s North West province.
The move followed days of wildcat strikes that crippled the mining sector and President Jacob Zuma’s government on Friday warned it would no longer tolerate “illegal gatherings.”
Police stopped Malema at the gates of a stadium in the province, where the striking workers had gathered.
The government announced last week that no illegal gatherings would be allowed in Marikana where 34 miners were shot dead by police last month and surrounding areas.
According to reports, after a “lengthy discussion”, Malema drove off, escorted by several police vans.
A police helicopter circled above, while police on foot patrol ran to points of entry to stop Malema from making any turns .
Striking Lonmin workers sang liberation songs as they filed into Wonderkop Stadium. A strong police contingent was keeping watch at the stadium.
Mining remains the backbone of the South African economy.
It employs half a million workers with another 400,000 employed indirectly by suppliers of goods and services and contributes to over half of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Zuma said the gold and platinum mines had lost 4.5 billion rand due to strikes and warned this to forced stoppages this year, which could push the country into recession.
Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) president S’dumo Dlamini said the problem in Marikana was not rivalry between unions nor can it simply be put as being a widening gap between leaders and members.
Dlamini said mine workers cannot be expected to keep quiet and say “thank you (boss)” when they knew that Lonmin financial officer, Alan Ferguson earns R10.2 million a year or 854,581 rand a month, which is 152 times higher than the salary of a rock drill operator.
Meanwhile, mediators were hard at work to get workers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine to accept a wage offer.