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The violent confrontation that claimed more than 30 lives near Lonmin’s Marikana mine, in Rustenburg, did not just happen out of thin air, an analyst said.
“Should we have seen this coming? Yes and no,” said Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg.
“You have a police force who are not properly equipped... You have people failing to realise that we need to stop treating trade unions as a threat and treat them as an asset.
“This industry [mining] is an important industry, but it also comes with human costs. We need a little bit more sensitivity to how difficult this job is.”
Friedman said the situation at the Lonmin mine was also a good indication that unions had lost touch with their members.
“The NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] by its own admission lost the confidence of its members... If the unions are weak, you have tragedy.”
Friedman said this showed what could happen in work places if the system of bargaining broke down.
Police moved in on protesters gathered on a hilltop near the mine on Thursday, after days of negotiations. The strike was believed to be linked to rivalry between the NUM and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) over recognition agreements at the mine. Workers also wanted higher wages.
Friedman said union rivalry was common all over the world, but was “more bitter” in South Africa.
“The reason is that for people involved, being in a senior position in a trade union means getting out of poverty. There is an economic motive here, and we wouldn’t be here if we [didn’t] have an economic situation where people have to fight for leadership in unions to have a better life,” he said.
The police have come under heavy criticism for opening fire on the miners.
Friedman said police officers in South Africa were not being properly trained.
“I’m not blaming the police..., [but] our police are not being trained to deal with this violent situation,” he said.
Many people felt that South Africa needed a police force that was tougher, but Friedman said this was not the case.
“It is not a question of being tougher. They [police] are not adequately trained. If you put guns and bullets in the hands of these people, who are not trained properly, you have a problem,” he said.
Part of the problem was also that two police officers had been killed before Thursday’s shooting.
Friedman said this had increased the chance of police on the scene shooting.
“Someone should have been aware of the problem,” he said.