, MARIKANA, South Africa, Sept 16 – Striking South African miners have called for a “peaceful march” on a police station Sunday after authorities launched a major crackdown in the country’s restive platinum belt.
Police on Saturday fired rubber bullets at protesters and seized weapons from worker hostels at platinum giant Lonmin in an operation to quell unrest in the mining sector.
Soldiers were also deployed as back-up in the troubled Rustenburg platinum belt where militant protests have forced several mine closures since police gunned down 34 people last month at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.
The troops had been sent in to Marikana at the request of the police, Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga told AFP. But the police were leading the operation, he added.
Forces moved into Marikana less than 24 hours after the government announced a security clampdown. The unrest has forced three leading producers to halt mining operations on the world’s richest platinum deposits.
The striking miners said there would be a “peaceful march” on Sunday, heading towards the police headquarters in Rustenburg.
“Everyone will be here. No vandalising, maybe sticks but no iron. It will be a peaceful march, But I can’t guarantee there won’t be rubber bullets,” said one of the strike leaders, who called himself Gadaffi.
Sunday will mark a month since the 34 miners were killed on August 16.
Five hundred police officers, assisted by the army, raided hostels at Lonmin’s mine at 2:00 am (0000 GMT) Saturday, seizing piles of metal rods, machetes and sticks.
Later that morning, police fired tear gas to disperse gathering protesters. There were clashes as workers regrouped and threw stones at officers amid the shacks opposite the mine.
“It will be a peaceful march, But I can’t guarantee there won’t be rubber bullets”
Plumes of black smoke poured into the sky from burning tyres which workers used as barricades along with large rocks dragged across the dirt roads inside the humble settlement. But the area was calm by the afternoon.