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Mine at center of S. Africa shootings gives workers until Monday to return

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:39 PM EDT, Sun August 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Drill operator says he and his coworkers should honor dead colleagues, stay on strike
  • Mine company says workers have until Monday to come back
  • 44 people were killed this week in violence at the mine -- 34 by police on Thursday
  • Police say they fired at the striking workers in self-defense

Rustenburg, South Africa (CNN) -- Facing an ultimatum to return to the mines Monday, a South African drill operator told CNN he and his co-workers should honor their slain colleagues and hold out for a pay increase.

Cingisile Makhaba, who along with 3,000 other drillers and assistant drillers has been on strike since August 10, told CNN he must get a big raise before he goes back to the mines.

"Otherwise they will have died in vain," he told CNN's Nkepile Mabuse.

Last week, police fired on striking miners, killing 34 workers, wounding 78 and arresting 259 on various charges, including malicious damage to property, armed robbery, illegal gathering and possession of weapons. Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega has said police "were forced to utilize maximum force to defend themselves."

The rock drill operators and assistant rock drill operators, who earn $300 to $500 a month, want their salaries raised up to $1,500 a month.

It came as no surprise that their multinational employer, Lonmin, the world's third-largest producer of platinum, said no to the whopping increase. The company said the strike is illegal.

The company said Sunday it was telling non-striking workers that "police consider it safe to report for duty again" Monday morning and was ordering strikers back to work or face possible dismissals.

Police shoot striking mine workers

Cyril Ramaphosa, an African National Congress executive committee member who owns shares in the mine, is donating $250,000 to pay for the funerals of those killed last week.

But Makhaba said the money is "of no use now. It won't bring back the dead."

"Where is this money coming from?" he asked. "They should have used it to increase our wages."

Makhaba lives with his two children in a compound of one-room shacks he shares with eight other families.

"We work hard but we live like animals," he said.

Over the weekend, thousands of people gathered outside the platinum mine in anger over the shooting.

The situation was calm but tense as police stood on guard near the protest Saturday and helicopters conducted surveillance.

The tragedy began unfolding a week ago when miners went on strike demanding pay increases at the mine in Marikana, near Rustenburg, about two hours northwest of Johannesburg.

"When there is a rock fall, it is generally the drillers who are the victims," wrote journalist Greg Marinovich in the Daily Maverick newspaper. "It is the most dangerous job in the business."

The violence was believed sparked by a rivalry between two unions that wield a lot of power and influence in South Africa. The unions, accused of trying to outdo each other in negotiating wages, denied instigating the clashes.

Tensions at Marikana had mounted throughout the week.

The striking miners carried traditional panga machetes and gathered Thursday around a small hill. By then, at least 10 other people were dead from incidents that had occurred in the days before. Among them were two police officers who were hacked to death.

Journalists who were at Marikana said police seemed fed up with the miners and determined to resolve the issue.

"Yesterday the police were clear that today we are going to disarm them and remove them from the hill because the gathering is illegal," Xolile Mngambi, a reporter for CNN affiliate ETV, said Friday.

By Thursday afternoon, another round of negotiations among the striking miners, the unions and Lonmin had failed.

A heavily armed police Tactical Response Team moved in to disperse the miners.

To hear Phiyega, the police commissioner, describe it, the police weighed all their options and decided to fence in the miners with barbed wire -- to compartmentalize them into more manageable groups.

"The armed protesters moved toward the police," she said. "They were driven back with tear gas and rubber bullets. But when they fired, police used maximum force."

But journalists at the scene could not say whether the protesters fired first.

"We cannot say to you the police were provoked," Mngambi said.

Then, the police unleashed a barrage of gunfire. One witness said it went on for three minutes.

CNN's Nkepile Mabuse contributed to this report.

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