Police have dispersed striking miners at the Marikana mine in South Africa who tried to march despite a government-ordered clampdown to halt illegal protests.
Monday’s development came as unions in South Africa began their national congress where the strike at the Lonmin PLC’s platinum mine is expected to top the agenda.
The miners were angry at a police crackdown on Saturday during which rubber bullets and tear gas were fired at a shantytown in Marikana, where officers killed 34 miners on August 16.
On Sunday, police persuaded hundreds of strikers at another mine, run by the Anglo American company, to halt an illegal protest without violence.
The presence of 1,000 soldiers brought into the “platinum belt”, 100km northwest of Johannesburg, has escalated tensions over union rivalries and higher pay demands that have stopped work at one gold and six platinum mines.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from the mine, said: “Police are playing a cat-and-mouse game with the striking miners. They have brought in reinforcements and encircled the entire settlement.
“They went out on foot, cocked their guns, then got back in their vehicles and seemingly drove away.
“The miners on the road here are defying government orders not to assemble and they are quite defiant now. They are saying that “if the police come back, there will be war”.
Meanwhile, at the gathering of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the major talking point for delegates is the crisis that has gripped the country’s mining sector for the past five weeks.
The ongoing strikes are continuing to damage South Africa’s economy and are especially critical to the mining sector.
Tens of thousands of miners remain on strike, and many are critical of the close ties between the main labour unions and the ruling ANC party.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from the congress venue in Johannesburg, said the meeting was happening against a backdrop of the labour dispute which has created great ruptures and splits within the union movement.
There has also ben great criticism of the union movement, COSATU and the ANC, he said
“What we are seeing is questioning among the delegates of whether the ANC is going to shift its policy, or whether the delegates at this conference can bring pressure to bear on the government to alter its policy, or if this is not going to work and the trade union will have to split away from the ANC and the government itself”.
The striking miners have accused union leaders of being too close to politicians.