The South African Police Service moved in on strikers camped outside of the Lonmin mining complex in Marikana, Rustenburg, earlier.
Bullets and teargas were fired at the crowd (see video here).
General Secretary of South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers told Moneyweb unconfirmed reports put the fatalities at between 18-25 people.
One Reuters tweeter reports seeing bodies strewn on the ground. SAPS however were unwilling to confirm whether a manouver has taken place. SAPS Captain Dennis Adriao told Moneyweb, “I am not going to be able to say anything at this stage … I am just trying to get details.”
Earlier Adriao said, “We have tried over a number of days to negotiate with the leaders and with the gathering here at the mine, our objective is to get the people to surrender their weapons and to disperse peacefully.”
“Today is D-day in terms of if they don’t comply then we will have to act … we will have to take steps,” he said.
The strikers, believed to be mostly rock-drillers employed by Lonmin, have been camping on a koppie just outside of Marikana Township since Tuesday, vowing not to move until their wage demands are met.
It has been reported that the drill-operators, which perform an essential bottleneck function at the mines, are demanding wage increases from current levels of R5 000 to a revised R12 500pm.
However, Lonmin has refused to negotiate with the strikers, saying the strikes are illegal.
“There are no negotiations and there where (sic) never an intention on our behalf to negotiate because this is illegal,” said Barnard Mokwena , executive vice president of human capital and external affairs at Lonmin.
“We have notified (striking) employees this morning to show up for work tomorrow, failing which legal proceedings as determined by the Labour Relations Act will be initiated,” he told Moneyweb.
The company indicated on Tuesday that it would issue warning letters to workers to return to work the following day. However, it refrained to do so on Wednesday.
Trade union Solidarity has gone as far as urging Lonmin’s management to issue a final ultimatum of dismissal to the protesting workers, saying that this type of action, inspired by a “dubious” trade union does “irreprable” damage to SA’s reputation amongst international investors.
Lonmin’s mines have been operating on a skeleton staff since Monday as intimidation has prevented workers from arriving for work, said Mokwena.
It is assumed that output at the mines has effectively dropped to zero although Mokwena would not confirm that, saying it is “market sensitive information.”
A stock exchange news service (Sens) announcement is expected to be published on Thursday afternoon, in which the effect of the strike on Lonmin’s operations will be outlined.
In response to the Lonmin developments, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant states, “The violence that has occurred cannot be condoned and has no place in the way that labour relations and inter-union relations should be conducted. The loss of life has been particularly tragic and unnecessary.”
Rustenburg police confirmed on Thursday that six people had been arrested following violent protests at the Lonmin platinum mine, for “various incidents of intimidation.”