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‘Union fed Lonmin workers propaganda’

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By Jonisayi Maromo

The Farlam Commission listened on Tuesday to a recording of a meeting involving unions, Lonmin mine executives and the police.

In the meeting, held in Rustenburg on August 15, the National Union of Mineworkers' (NUM) president accused the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) of pledging a salary hike to rock drill operators.

The meeting was called by the police, who asked the unions to intervene in what had become a violent strike.

North West deputy provincial commissioner Maj-Gen William Mpembe appealed to the unions to ask their members to disarm and disperse. At that stage, the workers were encamped on a hill near Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana.

“Both of you, help me to defuse this situation. I am not here to judge and say this or that union is rude. I am here for safety and security,” he said.

By the time the talks were held, 10 people - including two policemen and two Lonmin security guards - had been killed in strike-related violence.

NUM president Senzeni Zokwana refused to address the striking workers on the hill, saying they were armed “and had been fed propaganda by those who have been addressing them”.

“People should be told to leave that mountain. We cannot negotiate with people who are armed. It’s not that we are cowards, we respect the law,” said Zokwana.

Amcu officials had previously addressed the workers on the hill.

“We know that there are our members there 1/8at the hill 3/8. A number of our members have been grabbed against their will,” he said.

The meeting became heated. Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa said:

“Black people are being killed there. The things that happened in the dark days of South Africa are resurfacing. This blaming game will not take us anywhere.

“You (Lonmin) should blame yourselves 110 percent. If you had responded to my letter I don’t think we would be sitting here talking about the loss of lives.”

He refuted Zokwana's claims that the newly-established union had promised rock drill operators a monthly salary of R12,500.

“We only went to the mountain to seek answers. We were there to get the facts. The workers told us they wanted R12,500,” Mathunjwa said.

He accused the mine of speaking to the protesters and of promising them a salary incentive without involving the unions.

At that stage, Lonmin mine executive Bernard Mokwena said it had told the police to put intervention plans on hold and give the unions a chance to resolve the matter.

Mathunjwa responded: “Don’t threaten us by saying the police will go and shoot. That is apartheid syndrome. You are not building anything.”

Zokwana said his union would not address the protesters in the same forum as Amcu.

“NUM will not be accompanying Amcu to undo what they have done there.”

Mokwena said Lonmin was not prepared to negotiate with the protesters outside traditional collective bargaining processes.

The meeting ended “quite late”, Mathunjwa testified on Tuesday.

The unions later headed for the hill separately, but armed protesters turned the NUM delegation away.

The next day, August 16, police opened fire on the miners on the hill, killing 34 and wounding 78.

The commission, led by retired judge Ian Farlam, is conducting public hearings at the Rustenburg civic centre. Proceedings continue on Wednesday. The three-member commission was established by President Jacob Zuma to investigate the deaths and the role of unions, police, employers and protesters. - Sapa

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