‘We will kill them if they go to work’

2012-02-18 18:31

“We killed him!” shouts a man from the back of the crowd. He slides his hand across his cheek to demonstrate how they allegedly sliced off the man’s cheeks with a knife.

This is Freedom Park, Rustenburg, where an unnamed man was killed this week, apparently by striking mineworkers who suspected that he was trying to sneak back to Impala Mine Shaft 8 to reapply for his job.

And striking mineworkers say more will die if the 17 000 workers fired last month are not reinstated soon.

“We are going to wait for them at the bus stop,” shouts another man as a crowd of agitated strikers crowd around the City Press team in an open field in Freedom Park, a windswept, desolate settlement of RDP houses and shiny zinc shacks where most of the 17 000 axed miners live as backyard tenants.

“Every morning you will find dead bodies because we are going to kill them! If they try to go to work they will die! They are still going to die!” seethes another.

The workers have gathered in the open field next to the railway line separating the settlement from Shaft 8 since morning.

The night before, bands of men armed with clubs tried to storm the mine hostel, but were repelled by mine security guards and police in armoured cars.

Tension rises as the afternoon passes. About 200 metres away, police officers stand guard in Nyalas and bakkies.

Barricades of logs, burning tyres, cement blocks and rocks litter the road that leads to the settlement.

Groups of excited youth speak of storming a nearby store, abandoned by its owners during a looting frenzy the day before. Before long, despite the low-flying police helicopter, scores of people run through the streets carrying crates of cold drink looted from the shop.

Police move in, but even they look resigned to the fact that the damage has already been done. They manage to salvage crates of cold drink, packing them into police Nyalas.

Fear and uncertainty permeate the streets of Freedom Park. The conditions here belie the settlement’s name.

Almost every lot consists of an RDP house surrounded by at least six zinc shacks that are rented out at about R400 a month to mineworkers who don’t want to live in the mine’s hostel.

One of many settlements across the platinum fields of Rustenburg and Phokeng, in Freedom Park everything centres on mining.

Migrants from southern Africa, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape work there, traders sell to them, children are born, schools are built. Strains of Sesotho, isiXhosa, Setswana and even Portuguese fill the air.

Somali and Pakistani traders have borne the brunt of the rage and lawlessness. Spaza shops, run largely by immigrants, stand abandoned, their doors and shelves shattered following the looting sprees of the past few days.

A Mozambican spaza owner is so frightened he sleeps in his store. Another gave away rotting fruit and vegetables to neighbours on Friday; he’s too scared to trade.

On Thursday night, running street battles between striking workers, school pupils and police raged well into the night.

Sibusiso Shazi (42) says police stormed a shack in which he was sitting with three friends and opened fire on them with rubber bullets. He was shot in the knee, buttocks, hands and right arm, leaving muscles exposed.
Pupils at Freedom Park Secondary say they were forced out of class on Thursday afternoon when police dispersed a mob on its way to torch the school.

“We came out of class running,” says one child.

The mineworkers were dismissed after a dispute over a retention bonus and a subsequent illegal strike. The first to be dismissed were about 5 000 rock drillers who refused to accept that they would not receive a bonus and went on an illegal strike.

The rest of the more than 17 000 workers were axed for not coming to work.

Impala Platinum said it had lost the production of 60 000 troy ounces, or 1 866kg, since the strike began last month.

Workers like Johannes Sekhakhu (47), who earns R3 000 after deductions after 28 years of service, say theirs is simply a demand for a living wage.

Sekhakhu, who lost two fingers in a mine accident, doesn’t understand why Implats fired and refuses to reinstate them. They have to reapply for their jobs, losing the benefits they accumulated over decades.

“If they want me to reapply for my job, then they should give me back my fingers. I want my fingers back!” he cries.

Lesotho national Moliehi Lekoane (40) says the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which has been holding talks with Implats in a bid to resolve the impasse, has let them down.

“We have never seen those (NUM) people here. They were supposed to represent us, but instead, they sent us to the bush.

“They abandoned us. They claim to represent us, but they have never even come here to hear our views. I earn R3 000 and I have five children. What am I going to do with R3 000?”

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