Zuma insisted the state was not taking sides in the spate of unrest hitting the key mining sector after ordering police raids on workers at the Marikana platinum mine amid threats of a general strike.
“Government respects the constitutional rights of Marikana residents but has to promote peace and order,” the president said in a statement delivered on the eve of the annual congress of the COSATU trades union confederation.
“Government cannot allow a situation where people march in the streets carrying dangerous weapons. We cannot allow them to intimidate others or incite violence, and we also have to protect the rights of those who do not want to be part of their protests or the strikes.”
Hours earlier, police blocked a march by protesting miners after a security crackdown in the restive platinum belt, where officers shot dead 34 strikers exactly a month ago.
Workers dispersed calmly after armoured trucks and armed police in riot gear stopped them from marching on a police station in the northwestern town of Rustenburg, a day after officers fired rubber bullets to disperse workers in nearby strike-hit Marikana.
“The police have blocked us. They are dispersing us. Now we are telling our people to go back to where we came from,” said Gaddhafi Mdoda, a workers’ committee member at Anglo American Platinum.
Workers at area mines had planned the march to protest against the police’s use of force. Several people were injured by rubber bullets Saturday at platinum giant Lonmin’s Marikana operation after government orders to stamp out flaring unrest across the mining sector.
Absent from the march was the usual protest gear of machetes, spears and sticks, after hundreds of officers seized piles of weapons in raids early Saturday at worker hostels.
Police raided the hostels with the support of the army, confiscating the weapons and firing tear gas and rubber bullets after Friday’s announcement by the government that it will no longer tolerate the growing mines troubles.
The clampdown is targeting illegal gatherings, weapons, incitement and threats of violence that have characterised the unrest, with police telling the leaders of Sunday’s protest that they needed permission for the march.
— ’166 people share four toilets’ –