Lonmin signs deal without striking union, miners

Managers of a platinum mine where South African police killed 34 striking workers signed a peace deal Thursday with main labor unions but a breakaway union and the strikers themselves rejected it.

That creates gloomy prospects for an accord that is supposed to open the way for wage negotiations to end the month-long strike. Suspicion and anger poison the atmosphere. Strikers on Wednesday threatened to kill workers and managers who ignore their strike.

Strikers who have stopped operations at the Marikana mine say they are interested only in London-registered Lonmin PLC meeting their demand for a monthly take-home pay of 12,500 rand ($1,560) — about double what they now earn.

Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said all was quiet early Thursday at the Karee mineshaft where some 2,000 strikers and supporters on Wednesday threatened to kill those who don't join the month-long stoppage at the nearby Marikana mine. Neither mine has produced platinum for weeks. The Karee mineshaft is responsible for 68 percent of production at Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer.

"The chances of warring parties imminently signing a peace agreement to end the violence at Lonmin's platinum mines seem slim," the mining Web site miningmx.com wrote late Wednesday. "Even should the negotiation process lead to the signing of some agreement, it is not likely to transpire into a lasting solution."

On Aug. 16, police who had vowed to end the strike shot and killed 34 miners, wounded another 78 and arrested 270 strikers. Police said they acted in self-defense when they were attacked by miners armed mainly with homemade machetes, clubs and spears.

But local news reports quote survivors saying some miners were shot at close range as they tried to surrender, and write that autopsies show others were shot in the back as they attempted to run away from the barrage of police gunfire.

Also Thursday, a second batch of 102 arrested miners was released on a warning by a court. They were among 270 charged with the murders of their 34 colleagues killed by police — a bizarre twist which generated so much national outrage that prosecutors were forced to withdraw charges. Six wounded miners still being treated in the hospital remain in custody until they can appear in court.

The National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa's leading trade union which is close to political leaders, said Thursday's accord "signals the good intentions of the participants to end the violence, threats and intimidation that has become a characteristic in the daily life of Marikana."

It appealed for the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union to come on board, adding "Not being part of the accord sends a wrong message to the workforce, a message of divisions and lack of common purpose."

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa refused to comment, saying he will explain the union's reasons for not signing at a news conference Friday.

Union rivalry was at the root of the violence at Lonmin operations. Many of the strikers say neither union represented their interests so they sent separate representatives to the peace talks being brokered by the Department of Labor.

They accuse the National Union of Mineworkers of cozying up to management and ignoring shop-floor interests to instead spearhead a faction supporting South African President Jacob Zuma's bid for re-election to lead the governing African National Congress at an elective congress in December. Should Zuma win he would be practically guaranteed a second term in power — but his chances have been seriously damaged by the police killings of striking miners.

The Police Independent Complaints Directorate is investigating 34 murder and 78 attempted murder charges against officers involved in the mass shooting. It also is investigating complaints that more than 140 miners were beaten up in police custody by officers trying to get the names of strikers who hacked to death two policemen in a week of violence before Aug. 16 in which 10 people were killed. Two mine security guards were burned alive in their vehicle and six officials of the national mineworkers union were killed.

Zuma has ordered a judicial commission of inquiry with wide-ranging powers to investigate the police shootings as well as the part played by mine managers and the unions.