RUSTENBURG, South Africa, May 22 (Reuters) – The chanting began around midnight, a chilling message through the cold of the early South African winter to those who had dared to cross the picket lines at platinum producer Lonmin.
“The rats must come out of their holes. We are going to kill this NUM,” the crowd chanted as it approached the home of ‘Mary’, a member of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) who had kept working at Lonmin when the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) was on strike.
Her real name cannot be revealed because she fears for her life. “I heard singing in the distance. I thought I was actually dreaming, but it was getting nearer and nearer,” said Mary, who spoke to Reuters at an undisclosed location.
The events she related unfolded outside her home near Lonmin’s Marikana mine on May 14, which the London-listed company had declared a “return to work day” in the hope of persuading enough people to end the crippling AMCU strike.
The 17-week stoppage, which has also hit Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, did not end that night; AMCU members blocked roads, extending the longest and costliest industrial action in South African mining history.
Fear is proving a potent weapon for the AMCU as it holds out for wage increases that the mining houses say they cannot afford.
Four NUM members were hacked or beaten to death in the run-up to May 14, and when Mary overheard someone at work – an AMCU “spy”, she feared – muttering “we must remove her head”, she thought she could be next.
A fifth NUM member was stabbed to death on his way to work at an Anglo American Platinum mine on Thursday.
When the crowd of 50 men in green AMCU t-shirts gathered at the end of her street – most carrying clubs, others scythes – they chanted the names of NUM members.
“I live in a circle, like a dead-end street. They stood there and they started humming and saying that the rats must come out,” Mary said, still shaken as she recalled the moment her three daughters, the eldest 13, awoke to the noise.
“Then they started pointing at the houses because most of us NUM people live in that street. I’ve got three children. They were all at home, and they were traumatised.”
Mary’s husband was also there, but he is a mine supervisor and not an NUM member, giving him some degree of cover. “I’m the one who’s a target because I am an NUM member,” Mary said, still wearing blue overalls after a day shift.
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