A man is arrested at Lonmin's Marikana mine yesterday after South Africa fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse rallying minersPhotograph: Reuters
About 500 police officers raided the hostels at Lonmin's Karee platinum mine near Marikana, the scene of the killing of 34 miners by police last month, and seized machetes, spears and other weapons.
Yesterday's incident was the latest in five weeks of labour unrest that has choked off platinum production at the world's top producer of the precious metal.
It broke out as Lonmin increased its pay offer to striking miners, although the revised figure was still short of the 12,500 rand (£900) per month they demand. An earlier offer on Friday was rejected.
Police arrested five people in the early-morning raids on the hostels, which are home to about 6000 miners, but for drugs offences rather than weapons, police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said.
"The aim of the operation was to make sure that we disarm and to ensure that we reclaim Marikana and we restore peace and stability in the area of Marikana," he said of the raid.
"They [the miners] continue to murder and kill people with the very dangerous weapons that they carry on a daily basis."
Miners later gathered at a field in Marikana, about 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg, and police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.
A police helicopter kept watch from above as officers in armoured trucks clashed with workers who had earlier been dispersed by the tear gas.
In Marikana last month police shot 34 striking miners dead in a single day, the bloodiest police action in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. A total of 44 people have been killed in the unrest.
The "Marikana massacre" has poisoned industrial relations in South Africa and drawn criticism that President Jacob Zuma and the ruling ANC have been too slow to deal with the widening crisis.
The mine shootings have also made it hard for the police to use force to break up strikers, most of whom are armed with sticks, spears and machetes.
The government said on Friday it would crack down on illegal gatherings and the carrying of weapons.
"Illegal gatherings, the carrying of dangerous weapons, incitement as well as threats of violence against anyone in the affected areas will be dealt with accordingly," said Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.
Led by the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the strikes have threatened the long dominance of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is in an alliance with the ruling African National Congress. The strikers say the ANC and big unions have forgotten the needs of South Africa's millions of poor.
The mining sector, the backbone of South Africa's economy, directly employs about 500,000 people and accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product when related activities are included. It also brings in about half of the nation's export earnings.
The labour strife has also spread to the gold sector, where 15,000 Gold Fields miners have been striking for more than a week.
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