South African platinum miners refuse to go undeground as tensions simmer

Lonmin says production suspended as human rights group says another miner commits suicide

Miners gather at a hill dubbed the “Hill of Horror” during a memorial service for miners killed during clashes at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in Rustenburg, last August. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Miners gather at a hill dubbed the “Hill of Horror” during a memorial service for miners killed during clashes at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in Rustenburg, last August. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Tue, May 14, 2013, 12:08

Lonmin, the world’s third-largest platinum producer, said operations at its Marikana mine in South Africa have been halted after workers refused to go underground.

“Lonmin operations are suspended this morning owing to an illegal work stoppage,” Sue Vey, a company spokeswoman, said in a text message. “All 13 shafts are not operational at present. Employees have arrived at work but have not proceeded underground.”

The latest bout of industrial unrest at the complex in the North West province’s Rustenberg region comes after the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said a local organiser was shot dead near the mine on May 11th.

AMCU members “are demanding that the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) offices be shut because one of their own has died,” Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesman for the NUM, said in a phone interview. Competition between the NUM and AMCU, which is seeking recognition from companies after increasing its membership, is intensifying before wage negotiations. Miners at Lonmin’s Marikana operations also refused to go underground in March, demanding the NUM close its office.

Seperately a Lonmin worker Lungani Mabutyana, 27, hung himself from a tree on May 5th near the spot where he watched police shoot dead 34 striking mineworkers in August last year, a group formed by Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu said.

Mr Mabutyana was one of seven men to commit suicide since December as the community around Lonmin’s Marikana mine grapples with debt and the horror of last year’s violence, said David van Wyk, lead researcher of the Johannesburg-based Bench Marks Foundation.

The shooting was South Africa’s deadliest police action since the end of apartheid in 1994. The foundation is a non-profit organization owned by church groups in South Africa.

“These guys are still going through a lot of trauma from the Marikana massacre,” Mr Van Wyk said. “The scale of the violence has been of a magnitude which they just weren’t able to comprehend. The whole society has been traumatized.”

- Bloomberg