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'Marikana lives could have been saved'

NUM has been heavily criticised for leaving wage talks in Marikana until it was too late.

The National Union of Mineworkers has been heavily criticised for leaving wage talks until it was too late. Picture: Taurai Maduna/EWN

RUSTENBURG - The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has been heavily criticised for leaving wage talks too late, when lives had already been lost in Marikana.

NUM's branch chairperson, William Sethelele, is being cross-examined at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry about the union's role in the days leading up to the violence when 34 Lonmin miners were gunned down in August 2012.

The shooting was the result of a clash between miners and police outside the platinum mine, during demonstrations by the miners for higher salaries.

The police's legal representative Ismail Semenya said officers should not have been called to Marikana when the dispute could have been resolved by unions and Lonmin management days before the violence began.

"It was competent for labour and Lonmin, as the employer, to reach this agreement without the loss of life."

Sethelele, however, disagreed.

"I don't know whether I can say it was possible or not. There is no way I can say the union failed."

He said the union's members did not give them a mandate and that they were excluded from the wage dispute from the start.

'NUM WARNED MINERS NOT TO STRIKE'

Sethelele warned Marikana miners not to take part in the illegal strike because their jobs would be at stake.

NUM's legal representative Karl Tip read out Sethelele's statement during the inquiry last week in which he claimed to have told miners not to take part in the strike.

"I stressed that employees who took part in illegal strike action may jeopardise their employment. I urged them to think of their families and dependents."

Sethelele said NUM offices were targeted by protesters and several people were intimidated, but he still encouraged members to report for work.

A chief negotiator for the union admitted last week that they acted irresponsibly in the days leading up to the shooting.

On Friday, Advocate Dali Mpofu, who is representing many of the surveying rock drill operators, said the situation could have been handled differently by police and Lonmin.

By 16 August, on the day of the shooting, 10 people had already been brutally killed.

Sethelele said that Lonmin miners we now rejoining NUM in large numbers because of "the honesty it had always displayed".

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