Mine massacre raises spectre of apartheid South Africa
SOUTH African police revealed 34 miners were killed and 78 wounded after officers opened fire on strikers at the Lonmin-owned Marikana platinum mine on Thursday.
News of the shootings forced South African president Jacob Zuma to return home from a regional summit.
Police chief Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega said the killings were a dark day for South Africa, as people compared the incident to apartheid-era state violence.
Political parties and unions demanded an inquiry into one of the bloodiest clashes in South Africa since apartheid’s collapse. Last night Mr Zuma agreed, and ordered an investigation into what he termed “tragic events”.
The shootings are seen as a microcosm of the myriad problems facing South Africa 18 years after white racist rule ended, including growing inequality between a white minority joined by a small black elite, while most blacks endure high unemployment and inadequate housing, healthcare and education. Mr Zuma’s African National Congress government has played down demands that South Africa’s mines and farms be nationalised.
His party’s powerful youth wing argues that nationalisation is the only way to redress the evils of the apartheid past. Mr Zuma’s office confirmed that he had left a regional summit in Mozambique and was on his way to the mine, 40 miles north-west of Johannesburg.
The shootings “awaken us to the reality of the timebomb that has stopped ticking – it has exploded,” the Sowetan newspaper said in a front-page editorial yesterday. “Africans are pitted against each other… They are fighting for a bigger slice of the mineral wealth of the country.”
At hospitals in the area, people gathered, hoping to find missing family members among the wounded. At the scrubland scene of the killings, a woman carrying a baby on her back said she was looking for a missing miner. “My husband left yesterday at 7am to come to the protest and he never came back,” said Nobantu Mkhuze.
At least ten other people were killed during the week-old strike, including two police officers battered to death by strikers and two mine security guards burned alive when strikers set their vehicle ablaze.
Makhosi Mbongane, a 32-year-old winch operator, said mine managers should have spoken to the striking workers rather than send in police. Strikers were demanding monthly pay rises from $625 (£400) to $1,563 (£1,000). Mr Mbongane vowed he was not going back to work and would not allow anyone else to do so either.
“They can beat us, kill us and kick and trample on us with their feet, do whatever they want to do, we aren’t going to go back to work,” he said. “If they employ other people they won’t be able to work either, we will stay here and kill them.”
The South Africa Police Service defended officers’ actions, saying they were “viciously attacked by the group, using a variety of weapons, including firearms. The police, in order to protect their own lives and in self-defence, were forced to engage the group with force.”
Meanwhile, shares in Lonmin fell yesterday. Since violence broke out last weekend at the mine, shares have fallen by up to 20 per cent, wiping some £390 million off the company’s market value. Lonmin chairman Roger Phillimore issued a statement yesterday saying the deaths were deeply regretted.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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