Violence once again erupted near Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in the North West on Thursday after shots were fired, reportedly killing several striking workers.
Details are sketchy, but newswires reported that between seven and 18 bodies were counted after police opened fire on the 3 000-strong crowd of armed, illegal strikers perched on a hill near the mine.
A spokesperson for number-three platinum producer Lonmin told Mining Weekly Online that the company was unable to comment as it was a police operation based near the mine, but did confirm reports of shooting.
This followed demands by the South African Police Force for the strikers to disarm and disperse or face forceful removal. Police spokesperson Dennis Adriao was quoted as saying that Thursday was “D-day” and that if negotiations did not work, the police would enter a “tactical phase”.
Reuters reported that about 3 000 South African police officers descended on the scene, threatening the group with forceful removal if they did not disarm and leave.
Lonmin on Thursday also issued a final ultimatum for the striking workers at Marikana to return to work by Friday – or face dismissal.
The Johannesburg- and London-listed platinum group, which reported that it was unlikely to reach its full-year guidance of 750 000 oz of saleable platinum, had lost about 15 000 oz of production owing to the illegal strike, which turned violent and deadly six days ago.
Earlier in the week, the death toll stood at eight Lonmin employees and two policemen.
Before the reports emerged of police opening fire on striking workers, Lonmin stated that the situation at the site was still tense with the thousands of armed strikers camped on a hill near the mine, but that it had remained relatively “quiet” since Wednesday.
Lonmin said it was cooperating with the authorities to help restore a safe and secure environment for its employees as quickly as possible and that it maintained a state of readiness for production to start immediately after the workers return.
Meanwhile, CEO Ian Farmer was admitted to hospital with a serious illness, Lonmin said in a statement issued to stakeholders. The company did not supply further information.
The executive committee, temporarily headed up by Roger Phillimore, would undertake the day-to-day responsibilities, and director and former COO Mohamed Seedat would step in to assist.
Lonmin’s share price fell 7.34% on the JSE by 16:00 on Thursday.