Summary:About 600 workers downed tools Wednesday to demand higher wages at the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine, near the Lonmin mine where 44 people have died in a wildcat strike over similar demands.
Rock drill operators, the same workers who led the Lonmin strike, gathered peacefully at the mine to demand a wage increase as a handful of police stood by.
Royal Bafokeng spokeswoman Kea Kalebe said the protest was confined to one shaft, and that the company was still ascertaining the miners’ demands.
“We are still trying to establish the facts, the situation is calm, they were singing and we are obviously monitoring the situation,” she said.
Johannesburg-listed Royal Bafokeng Platinum is controlled by the Bafokeng tribe’s investment company.
South African newspaper Business Day reported that workers at AngloAmerican Platinum’s Thembelani mine, located in the same region, have also demanded a salary hike.
The demands at both mines appear to be led by rock drill operators calling for a monthly wage of 12,500 rand ($1,500, 1,200 euros) a month.
The rock drillers tell reporters they earn about 4,000 rand a month, but the industry and the main National Union of Mineworkers say their total compensation is about 11,000 rand.
Similar wage demands were at the root of the illegal strike at Lonmin that began on August 10. Clashes between the protesters and non-strikers left 10 dead before police were called in, resulting in last Thursday’s crackdown when police gunned down 34 people.
Defense Minister Apologizes
Moreover, South Africa’s defense minister apologized on Tuesday to angry miners who held up plastic packets of bullet casings, the first government official to beg forgiveness for the killing of 34 striking miners. It was the most deadly display of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994.
Defense Minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula’s apology came at the site of the killings where hundreds of mourners walked barefoot earlier in a ceremony to bless the site.
The minister spoke after one furious miner demanded to know why President Jacob Zuma has not come to address them, and threatened not to vote for the governing African National Congress.
“If Jacob Zuma doesn’t want to come here, how does he expect to gain our votes?” One man shouted as a posse of government ministers gathered before hundreds of striking miners.
Another piped up: “Don’t you know if the miners here don’t vote for you, the ANC is going down?”
Defense Minister Mapisa-Nqakula responded: “We agree, as you see us standing in front of you here, that blood was shed at this place. We agree that it was not something to our liking and, as a representative of the government, I apologize.”
When miners started shaking plastic bags of bullet casings at her, evidence of the many bullets that police fired in volleys last Thursday, she said: “I am begging, I beg and I apologize, may you find forgiveness in your hearts.”