Johannesburg – An attempt by the police on Thursday to disperse striking workers at Marikana’s Lonmin mine in the North West Province of South Africa ended in a shoot-out between the two groups.
Some 18 miners died during the clashes between the police and the workers.
Witnessessaid that dead bodies were lying on the open field near Wonderkop squatter camp.
South Africa Police Service (SAPS), had tried to disperse a section of the striking miners gathered on top of a hill when the clash started.
The striking workers wielding pan-gas and chanting war songs clashed with the police, who fired tear-gas and water cannons to disperse the strikers.
As fighting intensified, a shoot out ensured with the firing of live ammunition resulting in the dead of the 18 persons.
The identities of those who died were yet to be confirmed by the police at the time of this report.
The area around the hill, which the strikers had turned to their base for the past few days, has been cordoned off with barbed wire by the police, with the striking miners scattered towards the squatter camp and the nearby areas.
Police spokesman Capt. Dennis Adriao told journalists at the scene that the police had been “tactical” in their approach even though the situation was very tense.
Adriao said talks with leaders of the radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) had broken down, leaving the police with no option other than to disperse the striking miner by force.
“Today is unfortunately D-day,” Adriao said.
NAN recalls that ten people, including two policemen, had earlier died in nearly a week of fighting between rival workers factions at the mine.
On Wednesday, some 3 000 police officers, including members of an elite, camouflage-wearing riot control unit backed by helicopters and horses, had confronted striking rock-drill operators, but there were no clashes as operators dispersed after verbal exchanges with the police.
Before the approach of the police on Thursday, Joseph Mathunjwa, president of AMCU, which had been on a massive mobilisation of the miners, had said there would be bloodshed if police try to stop the striking workers by force.
“We’re going nowhere, if need be, we’re prepared to die here,”Mathunjwa had said.
The mine worker are demanding salaries increase from R 4,0000 to R12,500 (about N250, 000) which the Lonmin says it cannot afford because of slump in mining activities and the fall in price of platinum worldwide.