JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Ongoing violent protests at a platinum mine in South Africa have killed at least nine people, as authorities struggled to control a massive crowd that at one point overpowered officers and stole their weapons, police said Monday.
The protests focused on a Lonmin PLC mine operation near Marikana, a town about 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. Two police officers were killed during violent protests Monday, while another remained in critical condition, Brig. Lindela Mashigo said. Officers opened fire on the crowd, killing at least three people, he said.
"We're talking about a mob here," Mashigo said.
Protests began Friday at the mine when workers walked off the job over a salary dispute, Lonmin said in a statement Monday. Four workers attempting to go to work were injured by a rival mine union that day, Lonmin said.
Angry protesters returned to the mine on Sunday, killing two security guards by setting their car on fire, authorities said. Another two miners died Monday in other attacks, police and company officials said.
The fighting intensified Monday as part of a larger struggle between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the fighting had shut down Lonmin's operation near Marikana.
"The situation is tense," Seshoka said.
A spokesman for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union could not be immediately reached for comment. Solidarity, a union that largely represents skilled white workers, said in statement Monday that three of its members had been injured in the protests. The union also threatened to pull its workers from the site if calm isn't restored.
The restive labor force is among the many challenges facing the mining industry in South Africa. The industry has been weakened by decades of under-investment. A debate over nationalization and other policy questions have created uncertainty that has spooked potential investors. Still, South Africa remains a major producer of platinum, coal and gold.
London-based Lonmin is the world's third largest platinum producer. The company says 96 percent of all of its production comes from its Marikana operations.
"We condemn these attacks and the intimidation associated with them," executive vice president Barnard Mokwena said in a statement.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.