Makhanya Siphamandla, an important leader in South Africa’s national strike of platinum miners, has been arrested and charged with attempted murder.
His comrade Jacob Khoza has been arrested and charged too.
More than 70,000 members of the miners’ AMCU union have been on strike for more than six weeks. Talks broke down last week.
Thousands of miners marched through the capital Pretoria on Wednesday of last week.
Makhanya is accused of beating up a miner in the rival National Union of Mineworkers, which has not joined the strike, in Rustenburg’s Sondela township.
But AMCU colleagues say Makhanya was addressing strikers at a mass meeting shown on national television when the incident for which he was arrested took place.
Makhanya is a worker leader at Amplats, an AMCU shop steward and a member of the Democratic Left Front (DLF).
“This is a clear attempt to neutralise one of the key leaders of the strike at Amplats through spurious charges,” said DLF spokesperson Bheki Buthelezi.
The DLF sees the arrest as part of the bosses’ and the state’s strategy to break the strike by miners demanding a living wage of 12,500 rand (£700).
Unions are particularly worried about possible collusion between the police and the state. This is the case especially after the revelations about the Marikana massacre in 2012, when police shot dead 34 striking miners.
Amplats, the biggest platinum producer, failed last week in an attempt to get AMCU union leaders fined or arrested for inciting pickets to violence. It is still pursuing a claim for 591 million rand (£33 million) against the union.
The Department of Labour is also fining the union over technical issues to do with the union’s constitution.
AMCU national treasurer Jimmy Gama said, “We are happy that Amplats’s attempts to use courts to fight a collective bargaining battle were hampered. “Their application lacked credence and was based on their desperation.”
Makhanya visited Britain last year and addressed the Marxism 2013 event.
His next bail hearing was set to take place on Friday of this week and supporters plan a protest outside the court. Another militant is believed to have been arrested and held in the country’s north west.
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