Company Says Non-Strikers Being Killed
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ At least 33 men who defied the national strike by black mineworkers have been murdered since the three-week walkout ended Aug. 30, a mining company executive says.
Ken Maxwell, chairman of the gold and uranium division of Johannesburg Consolidated Investments, was quoted in The Star newspaper Thursday as saying the killings occurred at 13 gold and coal mines run by JCI and other companies.
″We are in a very difficult situation,″ Maxwell said. ″The workers are absolutely terrified. Systematically, people are being killed outside the hostels. Pangas (machetes) are being used.″
He said his company had information the killings were carried out by workers who participated in the strike organized by the National Union of Mineworkers. He said miners who survived attacks, which began Aug. 31, reported they were assaulted by men who supported the strike.
The union’s chief spokesman, Marcel Golding, described Maxwell’s allegations as ″a cheap publicity stunt.″
The union was aware that some miners had been killed and was seeking further information, Golding said. But he said some of the deaths cited by Maxwell occurred at mines not affected by the strike, ″which makes the allegations even more questionable.″
A police spokesman, Col. Vic Haynes, said he was not aware of any orchestrated attempt to kill miners who refused to join the strike.
Johannesburg Consolidated Investment said it also learned of plans to stage underground accidents and that those responsible for the killings particularly targeted Mozambicans because many worked during the strike, The Star reported.
The newspaper published a picture of a black man with stitches across his nose and along both sides. It did not identify him, but said he was a JCI electrician who alleged a group of mineworkers nearly cut his nose off during an attack Sept. 18 as he walked near mine property.
The National Union of Mineworkers claims a membership of 250,000 out of the total black industry workforce of 600,000, 41 percent of them foreigners.
In the face of mass firings of strikers the union ended the biggest and costliest mine strike in South Africa’s history by settling for the same pay and a slight improvement in benefits that managers offered during negotiations.
Labor relations consultant Gavin Brown said desperation for jobs combined with the limited power unions have to enforce a strike contribute to violence and intimidation during job actions.
The union has deplored such tactics, but blamed police and mine security for most of the violence that led to nine deaths, more than 500 injuries and 400 arrests during the strike.
Black miners live in single-sex hostels on mine property, far from their families whom they visit once a year. The living conditions, tribal differences and alcohol are blamed for frequent factional fights that break out in the hostels and sometimes spread underground.
Anglo American Corp., the nation’s largest mining house, and Rand Mines, announced plans this week to allow some of their black workers to buy houses and live with their families near the mining compounds.
Golding said Anglo American plans to build 24,000 houses over three years, while it employs 180,000 black workers.