Police crack down on striking Marikana miners


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South African police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to send men, women and children scattering as they herded them into their shacks in a crackdown on striking miners at a platinum mine.

This morning's show of force follows a South African government vow to halt illegal protests and disarm strikers who have stopped work at one gold and six platinum mines northwest of Johannesburg. The strikes have destabilized South Africa's critical mining sector.

It was the first police action since officers killed 34 miners on August 16 in violence that shocked the nation.

About 500 officers raided hostels at Lonmin PLC platinum mine before dawn and confiscated homemade machetes, spears, knives and clubs, said police spokesman Brig. Thulani Ngubane.

Six men were arrested for illegal possession of arms and drugs in those raids, he said. Another six were arrested later the same day.

Officers first fired tear gas at hundreds of miners who refused to disarm at the hill of granite boulders that has become the strikers' headquarters.

Police then moved into the Wonderkop shantytown where residents set up barricades of burning tyres to try to block the officers from their neighborhood. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at people who disobeyed orders baying over a bull horn for them to stay in their homes, tin shacks without electricity or running water divided by dirt tracks.

An army helicopter flew in to help herd people indoors.

Strikers have rejected a Lonmin offer to boost the entry-level monthly salary by 900 rand (£68) to about R5,500 (£400) with commensurate increases for higher paid workers. At government-brokered talks Friday the company increased the offer to an additional R1,800 (£135) for the rock drill operators who began the strike. But that still falls far short of the strikers' demands for a minimum monthly wage of R12,500 (£940).

The strikers have said they would rather see Lonmin shut down the mine than accept a lower offer.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said yesterday the strikes are "extremely damaging" to the economy.

"It undermines confidence in the South African economy and, if we undermine confidence, we undermine investment," he said.

Strikes are illegal in South Africa unless approved by the government labor conciliation board, which only allows stoppages once workers prove they have tried and failed to negotiate with an employer and after the conciliation board itself also tries to resolve the issue.