South African police on Sunday blocked a march by protesting miners after a security crackdown in the restive platinum belt, where officers shot dead 34 strikers exactly a month ago.
Workers dispersed calmly after armoured trucks and armed police in riot gear stopped them from marching on a police station in northwestern Rustenburg, a day after officers fired rubber bullets to disperse workers in nearby strike-hit Marikana.
"The police have blocked us. They are dispersing us. Now we are telling our people to go back to where we came from," said Gaddhafi Mdoda, a workers' committee member at Anglo American Platinum.
Workers at mines in the area had planned the march to protest against the use of force by police. Several people were injured by rubber bullets Saturday at platinum giant Lonmin's Marikana operation after government orders to stamp out flaring unrest in the key mining sector.Absent from the march was the usual protest gear of machetes, spears and sticks, after piles of weapons were seized Saturday in early morning raids on worker hostels by hundreds of officers.
Police raided the residences with the support of the army, confiscating piles of weapons and firing tear gas and rubber bullets after Friday's announcement by the government that it will no longer tolerate the growing mines troubles.
The clampdown is targeting illegal gatherings, weapons, incitement and threats of violence that have characterised the unrest, with police telling the leaders of Sunday's protest that they needed permission for the march.
Chrome mine worker Lunsstone Bonase hit out at the government for blocking the protest.
"The government is against people of South Africa and allows people to be killed. But we are suffering as workers of mines," he said.
"They are forcing us to go to work as they did under apartheid," he added.
Rising tensions have spilled over from Lonmin since a wage strike started on August 10, and have forced shut-downs at several mines, including those of the world's top platinum producer Amplats and number four producer Aquarius Platinum.
Sunday marked a month since the deadly bloodshed at Lonmin, where an already deadly strike in which two police officers had been killed exploded into the police shooting on August 16, sending shockwaves around the world with its echoes of apartheid-era brutality.
A mediator in Lonmin's wage talks, which are set to resume Monday, warned that the government's crackdown could lead to a "complete revolt across the platinum belt".
"Government must be crazy believing that what to me resembles an apartheid-era crackdown can succeed," said Bishop Jo Seoka, president of the South African Council of Churches.
"We must not forget that such crackdowns in the past led to more resistance," he added.
On Sunday, rocky barricades erected by residents of the shantytown opposite the mine could still be seen, with trenches also having been dug on the dirt roads. Armoured police trucks, with a water cannon, were also at the mine.
Lonmin's acting chief executive Simon Scott said that workers' demands for a 12,500-rand ($1,524, 1,161-euro) monthly wage would cost 2.3 billion rand to implement.
"This would put many thousands of existing jobs at risk and indeed challenge the viability of the business," he wrote in the Sunday Times.
"We have had our wake-up call, as has the rest of South Africa," he wrote, saying this did not mean the world's number three platinum producer had neglected its commitments.
"Rather, it is a recognition that we -- like everybody else -- now better recognise the increased scale and urgency of the problem. It will not be an easy journey."