Some Lonmin miners say they felt invincible to bullets
South Africa's Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula addresses mine workers at the Lonmin mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. (AP / Themba Hadebe)
Published Tuesday, August 21, 2012 6:48AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 21, 2012 11:15PM EDT
MARIKANA, South Africa -- Two men who survived a mass shooting by police that killed 34 striking miners say a traditional healer told the strikers that police bullets would not harm them if they used traditional medicine, a South African newspaper reported Tuesday as the mining company postponed an ultimatum for workers to return to work.
No striking miners will be fired in the week that South Africa officially mourns the killings of 44 men at a platinum mine, including 34 strikers shot by police last Thursday, a spokesman for the presidency told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Managers of Lonmin PLC platinum mine had ordered strikers to report for duty by 7 a.m. Tuesday or get fired, even as some family members still were searching for missing loved ones, not knowing whether they were dead or alive among some 250 arrested protesters or in one of the hospitals treating 78 people wounded in the police shootings that shocked the nation.
Two survivors told the Daily Dispatch that many of the miners drank a brown muti, or traditional medicine, to strengthen them ahead of the confrontation with police.
"They were cut several times on their upper body and a black substance was smeared on the wounds," Nothi Zimanga said, according to the newspaper in East London, in the country's Eastern Cape where many miners come from. "They were then told when they confront the police they must not look back and must just charge forward. If you look back then the muti will not work."
Miner Bulelani Malawana said he was offered the muti for $125 but turned it down, as did Zimanga.
"After they got the muti people were so aggressive. They just wanted to fight. They felt so invincible," Malawana said.
Harold Molaka said an inter-ministerial committee led by Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane convinced managers of Lonmin PLC platinum mine not to act on the ultimatum during a week of national mourning that began Monday.
The argument made was that "this is a period of mourning and they should be sensitive to that, and the management of Lonmin is part of that nation, and they agreed there would be no ultimatum so that the mourning process can be observed," Maloka said.
The mine's executive vice president Mark Munroe told TalkRadio 702 FM early Tuesday that those who did not report for work will be punished, but not necessarily dismissal.
"It won't help if Lonmin goes out and dismisses a whole lot of people for not coming to work today," he said. "It will set us back significantly in terms of violence, in terms of building trust."
Sue Vey, a public relations specialist representing Lonmin, said about 33 percent of workers expected for the morning shift reported for work Tuesday, up only slightly on 30 percent who reported Monday in response to an earlier ultimatum. Another publicist for Lonmin, Gillian Findlay, said that only 19.5 percent of rock drill operators showed up Tuesday. Some 3,000 rock drill operators started the strike on Aug. 10, demanding higher wages.
Lonmin said the mine had resumed operations on Monday.
Vey said workers were mainly involved in sweeping, making areas safe and having briefings. Industry experts say a workforce of at least 80 percent is needed to actually produce platinum.
The mine cannot operate without rock drill operators, who man the massive drills deep underground in the most dangerous job at the mine.
London-registered Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer whose shares have taken a hard knock, already has said that the strike has caused the company to miss its production target for the year of 750,000 ounces.