Mine protest clampdown

2012-09-15 00:00

THE government yesterday warned striking miners to respect the rule of law, saying the intimidation and anarchy that have accompanied their protest over the past weeks will no longer be tolerated.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Minerals and Energy Minister Susan Shabangu, among other ministers, addressed the media in Pretoria yesterday in a show of unity, saying the government would employ a firm hand in dealing with the miners’ protests.

Mthethwa said the government found it unacceptable that people protested while carrying dangerous weapons.

“It is not acceptable that we find people still being attacked and hacked to death.

“The law enforcement agencies will do all that is necessary to preserve order.”

His remarks were echoed by Radebe, who said the government had put measures in place to deal with the strikes.

Those found contravening the law would be arrested and those violating the Public Gatherings Act would also face the full might of the law.

Journalists at the briefing questioned whether the crackdown amounted to a state of emergency.

Radebe replied: “This is not a state of emergency; the law enforcement agencies are trying to restore order.”

He declined to comment on whether soldiers would be deployed to the troubled areas and whether police would still use live ammunition.

These were were operational matters of the police and at their discretion, the minister said.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan warned that the labour unrest would harm the economy, with devastating effects on employment, growth and foreign investment.

“It is the responsibility of all South Africans to improve investor confidence in the country,” he said.

Cosatu provincial secretary Zet Luzipho concurred with the position taken by the ministers that the miners’ strike was illegal.

“That is the law; the fact is that the strike is illegal.”

He said Cosatu ensured its member unions satisfied all legal requirements when protesting.

“The danger here is that a perception is being created that the government is more tolerant of some.”

Vusi Mabena, a senior executive of the Chamber of Mines, said the chamber supported the call by the ministers for the miners to lay down arms.

“Nobody would like to negotiate with someone carrying arms.”

Legal expert Mike Cowling said two requirements must be satisfied before people could gather or protest: permission was needed beforehand from a magistrate, and protesters should not carry weapons.

“But the debate is over traditional weapons that people used to carry back in the day.”

He said the Justice Department could take action against illegal gatherings, but it remained to be seen what this action would be.

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa said his members were disappointed by the government’s call.

Mathunjwa told Weekend Witness that no amount of force by the government will deter miners, who were fighting to move up the poverty line.

He said that during the 1976 Soweto uprising and the Bloody Sunday in the United Kingdom, force was used but protesters didn’t stop.

“Of course we also want peace, safety and security for all, but we’re disappointed that the government will take such drastic steps,” he said.

The union said the miners who witnessed 34 of their colleagues killed had not been counselled and were still traumatised.

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