LABOUR LAWYER: “OKHUKHO MINE STRIKE COULD HAVE BEEN A MASSACRE”

Celani Sikhakhane

A labour law expert has slammed the management of the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) over possible human rights abuses made against striking workers that could have led to a massacre.

Wiseman Khalishwayo of Wiseman S Khalishwayo Attorneys in Benoni has said that the involvement of police, seemingly without any proper court processes, could have ended in disaster.

He said that the police being sent into the mine to clear out strikers on 26 April could have led to a situation similar to the Marikana massacre in August 2012, when 34 striking miners were killed by SAPS members.

“Even if the striking workers were not backing down from their underground strike, the employer should have gone to court to seek a court interdict against workers,” said Khalishwayo.

He says the deployment of police to retrieve workers from underground should have been done with the sheriff of the court.

Upwards of 75 miners staged a sit-in on 14 April after ZAC refused to reinstate workers’ benefits that had been taken away in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.

On 19 April, ZAC attempted to put an end to the strike by hiring a private security company, Van Damme, to prevent strikers’ loved ones from bringing them food and water.

After this failed to end the sit-in, local police entered the mine at midnight on Tuesday, but the workers said they knew the system of tunnels better than the cops and were able to hide from them deep in the mines.

Khalishwayo stressed that it was a total violation of human rights to prevent workers from getting food and other basic services.

The Association of Mine Workers Union representative Mfanawenyanga Dlamini told Scrolla.Africa that the hiring of Van Damme also blocked communication between unions and workers.

He says after workers finally agreed to come out of the underground mining shafts, the management failed to address their demands. However, workers were promised that no one would be fired for engaging in the strike.