- 16 августа 2012, 19:44
Unknown number of workers injured, possibly dead, after officers move in on strike over pay which has already seen nine killed
South African police have opened fire on a crowd of striking workers at a platinum mine, leaving an unknown number of people injured and possibly dead.
Police moved in on the strikers who gathered on a rocky outcrop near the Lonmin mine on Thursday afternoon. On TV footage, a volley of intense gunfire could be heard. The private television broadcaster e.tv showed images of still bodies lying in blood in the dust. Another image showed some miners looking in the distance at heavily armed police officers in riot gear.
Police Captain Dennis Adriao, a spokesman for the officers at the mine, declined to immediately comment. Jeff Wicks, a spokesman for the private ambulance company Netcare, which was standing by at the mine, also declined to comment.
Barnard Mokwena, an executive vice-president at Lonmin, would only say: "It's a police operation." Lonmin is the world's third-largest platinum producer.
In a statement earlier on Thursday, Lonmin had said striking workers would be sacked if they did not turn up for their shifts on Friday.
"The striking (workers) remain armed and away from work," the statement read. "This is illegal."
The unrest at the Lonmin mine began on 10 August when about 3,000 workers walked off the job in protest over pay. Management described the action as an illegal strike.
Those who tried to go to work on Saturday were attacked, management and the National Union of Mineworkers said.
On Sunday, a crowd killed two security guards after setting their car ablaze, authorities said. By Monday, angry mobs killed two other workers and overpowered police, killing two officers, officials said. Officers opened fire that day, killing three, police said.
Operations appeared to come to a standstill on Tuesday as workers stayed away from the mines, where 96% of Lonmin's platinum is produced.
The shootings on Thursday saw stock in Lonmin plunge 6.33% in trading on the London Stock Exchange.
While the walkout appeared to be about wages, the ensuing violence has been fuelled by the struggles between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. Disputes between the two unions escalated into violence earlier this year at another mine.
Both unions have blamed each other for the trouble at the mine at Marikana, about 40 miles (70km) north-west of Johannesburg.