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South African workers' protest violently put down at Xstrata

14 November, 2012In the third incident of violent police action at Xstrata’s South African Kroondal operations in a week, police fired on mineworkers during a protest on 13 November, arresting 37 including shop stewards.

Workers went on an unprotected strike when Xstrata failed to take action against a white manager at its Kroondal chrome mine after he assaulted a black worker allegedly for refusing to sign a wage deal without union representation.

On 2 November, 400 striking workers, roughly two thirds of the workforce, were dismissed but protest action continued. On 8 November, police violently broke up the protest firing rubber bullets, injuring 8 workers, one critically, and arresting several workers. Injured workers are unable to access medical care as Xstrata has suspended their medical aid.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) suspected that some police might have fired live ammunition at protestors, however the union was being denied access to injured and arrested workers to establish this. 

Then on 12 November, police shot at protestors chasing them into the township whilst continuing to fire on the fleeing workers. Police shot one of the workers at close range in front of a local ward counsellor that was there to assist with resolving the dispute. Three workers were arrested.

Numsa reports that police have denied the union access to arrested workers, requiring lawyers to intervene. There are also allegations made by arrested workers of police brutality whilst in detention.

Numsa has criticised the police for intervening in what is an industrial relations matter that needs to be resolved through negotiations with the union. “Xstrata calls in the police to do their dirty work, who without even assessing the situation, shoots at workers and chases them,” says Steve Nhlapo of Numsa. “Workers were not undisciplined in their protest but police are using excessive force and trying to intimidate them into submission but this is only making workers more angry.”                                                            

Numsa proposed that in order to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of workers, the manager could be suspended pending a hearing by an independent arbitrator. Xstrata maintains that an internal hearing found that there was insufficient evidence to discipline the manager and mine management are refusing to budge on the matter.

Meanwhile workers at Xstrata’s three ferrochrome smelters in South Africa are also on strike, demanding higher wages and transport allowance. Xstrata is attempting to have workers sign individual contracts in an attempt to undermine Numsa and the resolve of striking workers.