analysisBy Mandy De Waal
Morning had just broken at Nkaneng informal settlement in the North West when the violence that has gripped the local mining sector since August 2012 flared up again, with two more dead. As a result, the police reaction is to bear down more heavily, with no visible solution on the bloodied horizon.
Violence on the Rustenburg platinum belt has claimed two more lives. A man was shot twice in the early hours of the morning of Thursday 11 October at the Nkaneng informal settlement situated between Rustenburg and Marikana in the North West. He was taken to hospital and subsequently died. Another man was torched a couple of hundred metres from where the first person was found.
"The incident happened in the early hours, at roundabout ten to six.
Mine security called the police to report an illegal gathering and when the police arrived, they found one man who had been shot. The police are not aware of who shot the man – it is too early to speculate – but detectives have opened up a case," said SAPS national spokesperson, Captain Dennis Adriao.
"The police found another man that had been burnt to death a few hundred metres away. He died on the scene. A few metres from there, the police found a burnt out mini-taxi, and there was a rowdy crowd of about 300 to 400 people around the taxi. The police managed to disperse some of them and arrested 41 for public violence," Adriao added.
In a statement issued by Anglo American Platinum via its PR person, the company confirmed that one of the dead was an employee. "Anglo American Platinum is saddened to confirm the death of one of its employees who was murdered on his way to work at the Western limb tailings re-treatment plant on Thursday 11 October," the statement read. The short release offered condolences from CEO Chris Griffith, who appealed for calm and urged employees to "refrain from engaging in acts of violence".
But strike leaders and organisers said that Amplats, the police and government would need to shoulder some of the blame for the two deaths.
Mametlwe Sebei, a leader in SA's Democratic Socialist Movement, which is a key organiser behind the strikes, told Daily Maverick that a de facto police ban on strike meetings had rendered wildcat labour leaders unable to effect discipline.
"I have spoken to the police and part of the problem is that there is order at all the other shafts except for Bathopele, and this is by the police's own admission. Where the worker was killed is precisely where we have not been allowed to meet. It is the same place where a worker was killed by the police last week," Sebei said.
The 48-year-old Mtshunquleni Qakamba died after police opened fire on strikers who had gathered on a hill adjacent to Amplats' Merensky reef near Rustenburg to get an update on the wildcat strike on Thursday 04 October 2012. Workers say police surrounded them and gave them ten seconds to disperse, but started firing before the count was even over.
"These two deaths are the consequences of our being deprived of meeting with the workers and from exercising leadership to make sure that the strike remains absolutely non-violent," said Sebei. "We have been meeting in defiance [of a blanket ban on public gatherings without police permission], but there [have] not been any problems or incidents of violence of this sort. We believe that had we been allowed meet at Bathopele on Thursday – instead of being shot at with rubber bullets by police – this tragedy would not have happened."
Sebei says that the recent dismissals and threats of dismissal by Amplats – in an environment where workers cannot meet and access leadership – means management must shoulder some blame for the tragedy.
"The management needs to accept some responsibility for this because there has been no attempt to find an amicable solution to the legitimate concerns that have been raised by the workers, nor to negotiate with the workers, or to understand that the workers have rejected NUM's mandate.
All of these things have in some way contributed to what has happened this morning," he said.
"I believe that the company, the mining industry and the government are clearly and absolutely responsible for what is happening in Nkaneng.
This doesn't mean that we do not condemn those elements who may very well be in our midst and who might be committing violence. We want to go on record to say we condemn this kind of violence. We believe that this kind of action will do nothing what so ever to advance or strengthen our struggle," Sebei added.
The socialist leader said the violence was directly related to the dismissals and threats of dismissal made by Amplats in a context where workers could not meet nor access strike leadership. "We believe that this places ammunition directly into the hands of those who want to create the public perception that the continued state violence in Nkaneng is justified, and that the actions of the police and the military are legitimate. This builds a case to justify a further crackdown on the workers," he added.
The SAPS' Adriao confirmed Sebei's prediction by saying that a more fierce police crackdown of Nkaneng was on the cards. "We have increased our police visibility and presence in that area, and this will include more regular patrols, police pop-in searches and various operations that I can't obviously elaborate on. We have a large amount of police already who are being deployed on patrols and who keep a high level of visibility within the whole mining area around Rustenburg. It is just a matter of re-deploying members where the need arises and where one sees potential threats," he explained.
Also on Thursday 11 October, a group of Amplats workers went to the Bathopele Mine in an effort to get the operation closed. "What happened this morning was that we were there at Bathopele mine, begging the management to close the mine. While we were there the management agreed that it was closing the operation. But they called the police and the police shot at us with rubber bullets," said Gaddafi Mdoda, an Amplats strike leader.
Adriao confirmed the incident, and said that there had also been arrests at Bathopele. "Police had to disperse a crowd that was unruly and where trying to stone the shaft," Adriao said. "Fourteen people were arrested and the rest were dispersed by the police."
A major gripe for strike leaders, aside from having their right to assemble without police permission quashed, was that mine management were currently negotiating with the National Union of Mineworkers, but refused to recognise that workers had rejected the union.
"We are the ones that can bring the workers back to work. But NUM, they are the ones who are busy there with the negotiations, but nothing is going to be fine. It doesn't matter what kind of money NUM brings us, the people won't go back to work. People want the representatives that they themselves have chosen. They don't want the NUM to represent them," Mdoda added.
"This thing can be resolved if only the mine management allow the mine representatives to be in on the negotiations. We, the chosen representatives, have the power to tell our workers: 'Guys – you need to calm down'. Nothing is going to happen until the management allow us to be there," he said.
But with today's deaths, it appears government and its law enforcement agencies will have all the justification they they need to intensify police and military action in trouble spots on Rustenburg's platinum belt, but more specifically at Nkaneng. Rubber bullets and teargas canisters look set to become the norm in the embattled community, where intransigence means that no-one is getting any closer to finding a solution to restore the peace and resume mining production.
Workers, management, government, unions – they all are digging in their heels, creating a stand-off that increasingly looks set to have catastrophic consequences on our country.