Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent
Violence erupted outside a South African mine yesterday as guards fired teargas and rubber bullets at a crowd of sacked workers who were pelting their former colleagues with stones.
The clashes outside Johannesburg came less than three weeks after police killed 34 strikers outside a British-owned platinum mine in South Africa’s bloodiest episode since the end of apartheid.
At least four people were hurt yesterday when about 200 protesters formed an impromptu picketline at the gates of Gold One’s Modder East mine.
Police said that they were investigating a case of attempted murder, but the mine’s owner said only that protesters “blocked all access in and out of the mine and threw stones at vehicles that were attempting to gain access to the operations”.
The protesters were drawn from about 1,000 workers who had been sacked in June, reportedly by text message, for their part in what Gold One described as an “illegal strike”. They were demanding their jobs back with better pay. A police spokeswoman described the violence as a “shootout”. Gold One said the protest prevented about half of its workforce reporting for work.
“The South African Police Service (SAPS) addressed the group extensively, informing them that the gathering was illegal and requesting them to disperse,” the company said in a statement. “The group, however, refused to disperse. At approximately 11:30 the SAPS had to use teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the group. Access to the Modder East Operations has since been re-established.”
Julius Malema, the former leader of the ruling African National Congress’s youth league, called last week for the country’s mines to be nationalised and accused President Zuma of selling out to the mine’s white “Boer owners”.
Mr Malema threatened last week to make all mines in the country “ungovernable” after widespread national outrage over the police shooting at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine as well as resentment over the ruling African National Congress’s failure to close the country’s wealth gap.
The South African state prosecutor was forced on Sunday to abandon murder charges against 270 of the protesters — on the basis that they provoked the police into opening fire — after civil rights groups and politicians condemned them for invoking apartheid-era laws.
Some of the 270 men, who had been held in police custody since August 16, were released last night.
“The tragic incident at Marikana is not a reflection of the business environment in South Africa,” Collins Chabane, the Minister in The Presidency, told reporters. “Government remains in control of the situation and law and order continues to prevail.”