The police n Phalaborwa arrested 11 rioters on Friday, 26th of February, after they set alight office buildings and the security guard house on the premises of the Palabora Copper Mine (PMC). The culprits behind these violent protest actions were members of the unemployment forum known as the BCF (Business and Community Forum).
A voice note was circulated over the WhatsApp messenger platform on Thursday evening (25th of February) in which an unidentified man believed to be one of the leaders of the BCF urged their members to converge at the main gate to the mine’s premises at 10:00 on Friday morning to show support for their leadership who were to engage with the management of PMC and a newly appointed contractor, Ukwezi. According to the orator of the voice note, the new company, Ukwezi, would be taking over the operations at Lift 2 on the mine. The BCF were seemingly unhappy about the development and planned to engage the mine and the company with a mandate that local labourers should be given preference.
[verbatim] “So, as we are having difficulty with PMC who do not want to bring this company to the BCF so that we can tell them how are they going to employ in our mine, so the issue here is tomorrow we are going to meet that company with PMC so that we can give them the mandate – your mandate. Remember you ex-employees, you are the sons and daughters of the soil, so tomorrow it’s a meeting at town, but all comrades are going to meet at the BCF office near the Meridian school.”
The orator continued by giving directions to the offices and said that all comrades will be meeting there “together with all the masses of Ba-Phalaborwa” where they will await the outcome of the meeting between their “leadership” and the mine’s management.
[verbatim] “So, I’m asking all of the ex-employees to come to the offices of the BCF together with the mask at 10:00 so that we are going to have a meeting to get a mandate to give to the new company so that he knows how is he going to employ. In terms of employment and in terms of business.”
In essence the group is complaining about employment and business opportunities that are, according to them, not offered to Ba-Phalaborwa residents. They claim that contractors are not complying with the hiring agreement.
The engagement between BCF executive members and the mining representative was held, but it did not resolve the issues, and violence erupted.
Protesters burnt down the offices of the mine and a motor vehicle at the reception. They also vandalized the main gate and stole some valuable items which included computers and related hardware.
“The matter was reported at Phalaborwa SAPS and police responded swiftly. Visible police (VISPOL) members and Public Order Policing (POP) from Giyani managed to contain the situation and dispersed the crowd. Eleven suspects were arrested during the process and the operation to restore order and stability in the area is still underway,” said Brig Motlafela Mojapelo, SAPS Limpopo Provincial spokesperson.
On Saturday, the 26th of February (today) however, the rioters again arrived at the entrance gates of the mine. The police Tactical Response Teams (TRT) maintained their presence at the site and at the time of writing this article the situation was under control.
In the meantime, a truck was set alight on the R40 heading out of Phalaborwa in the direction of Gravelotte, just after the Selati bridge. Eyewitness told Bulletin that riot members from the same BCF group, had botched an attempt to set alight another truck earlier in the morning at the Makushane four-way intersection after forcefully removing the driver from the truck then driving it into the intersection.
Just before they could set the vehicle alight, in retaliation to 11 of their members being arrested the police arrived and the vandals fled the scene.
At the time of writing this article, the police TRT and VISPOL members were patrolling the routes with support from members of the Phalaborwa CPF. The situation is being monitored and more violence is expected. Motorists are urged to avoid the R40 road.
This is a developing situation and Bulletin will keep you updated.
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