, JOHANNESBURG, Oct 8 – Representatives of 12,000 fired Anglo American Platinum workers in South Africa said on Sunday they plan to lay murder charges against police after a colleague was killed in clashes with the authorities.
“What we want to do tomorrow is to open a case against the SAPS (South African Police Service),” said George Tyobeka, a worker representative at the mine in northwestern town Rustenburg.
The Amplats worker, identified by mine workers as Mtshunquleni Qakamba, 48, was killed on Thursday when police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse a gathering of strikers on a hill.
“They shot against the people … until they killed one of our colleagues,” Tyobeka told AFP, adding that the workers wanted to file charges of murder and attempted murder.
“Employees weren’t fighting, they were just sitting on the hill,” he said.
Authorities have not confirmed the man’s identity or cause of death.
An independent police watchdog has meanwhile taken over the investigation “as the incident appeared to have arisen from police action,” police said in a statement.
Qakamba is among a growing list of fatalities in the ongoing violence that has gripped South Africa’s mining industry.
Since August, thousands of workers in different mines have gone on strike over pay, and police crackdowns have turned violent on some occasions.
In neighbouring Marikana, deadly strikes at platinum mine operated by mining giant Lonmin have left 46 dead, including 34 killed by police in a crackdown in a single day in August.
A union branch leader – who took part in an inquiry into the Lonmin violence – was shot dead in Marikana late on Friday. And on Sunday, another fatality was reported.
Both killings were confirmed by police late on Sunday.
“An unemployed cousin … of an NUM shop steward was shot and killed last night (Saturday) at the shop steward’s house in what is reported to be a case of mistaken identity,” said National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesman Lesiba Seshoka in a statement.
“According to the friend who was seated on a chair at the time the incident happened, gunmen appeared from nowhere at the Marikana hostel and immediately shot the steward’s cousin … who was sitting on a bed,” he said.
It appeared that the victim was mistaken by gunmen for his cousin.
The provincial branch of powerful trade union federation Cosatu, which is in an alliance with the ruling African National Congress, said the murders were part of a political conspiracy.
“From the manner in which the secretary of the branch was killed it is clear that the killers were ready for some time,” it said in a statement, referring to the Friday killing.
“The poor leader was reportedly shot by seven bullets. This is clearly no longer about wages but a clear attack on the NUM, Cosatu and its members,” the union said.
Wildcat strikes have spread across South Africa’s mining sector as workers reject their conventional union structures.
Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer, gave strikers pay rises of up to 22 percent in September after six weeks of illegal work stoppages.
But Amplats, the world’s top platinum producer, formally dismissed 12,000 of 28,000 striking workers following disciplinary hearings, a day after the crackdown that left Qakamba dead.
Unions have condemned the mass dismissal, insisting the workers be reinstated.
Amplats workers had downed tools on September 12 demanding wages of 16,070 rand ($1,800, 1,400 euros) – more than double what some earn.
On Saturday around 1,500 people gathered at the hill where the clashes occurred to commemorate Qakamba.
Vowing to fight for higher wages, worker representatives will meet with government mediators Monday about their demands, but not to discuss their sacking, Tyobeka said.
“Tomorrow we don’t want to mention the issue of dismissal. Dismissal is an issue of management,” he said.