Thousands of miners at Lonmin’s Marikana operations in South Africa returned work on Thursday, ending a six-week strike in which 46 people died as nearby mines faced strikes by workers demanding similar raises.
Striking workers from Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats) Rustenburg mine barricaded a street with burning tires as a police helicopter hovered overhead and armed officers backed by armored vehicles and water cannons were on stand-by close by.
Amplats, the world’s biggest platinum producer, is threatening legal action if the wildcat strikers do not return to work on Thursday.
“We'll buy 20 liters of petrol and if police get violent, we'll make petrol bombs and throw them at them,” said Lawrence Mudise, an Amplats rock driller, holding up a sign demanding 16,700 rand ($2,000) in monthly pay.
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a crowd of men carrying spears and machetes in a squatter camp near the site a day earlier.
“We’ll not go to work until we get what we want. Our kids have been shot at, our families have been terrorized and brutalized, but we are not going back to work,” one miner, who did not wish to be named said .
Last month Lonmin miners from rival unions armed with machetes died in clashes before a standoff in which police shot dead 34. It was the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in the 1990s and sent platinum prices more than 20 percent higher. Amplats said disruptions at its mine posed a threat to the site's future.
“(The) operations are already under considerable economic pressure", it said in a statement. "Any further delays in returning to work will only increase the risk to the long-term viability of these mines.”
As the return to work began in earnest at Lonmin’s Marikana, workers shouted "We are reporting for work" in Fanagalo, a pidgin mix of Zulu, English and other African languages.