Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, August 2012
Dozens of Striking South African Miners Killed by Police
Mine massacre shocks post-apartheid South Africa
By Jon Herskovitz
MARIKANA, South Africa | Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:31am EDT
MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) -
The killing by police of more than 30 striking platinum miners in the bloodiest security operation since the end of white rule cut to the quick of South Africa's psyche on Friday, with people and the media questioning its post-apartheid soul.
Newspaper headlines screamed "Bloodbath", "Killing Field" and "Mine Slaughter", with graphic photographs of heavily armed white and black police officers walking casually past the bloodied corpses of black men lying crumpled in the dust.
The images, along with Reuters television footage showing a phalanx of officers opening up with automatic weapons on a small group of men in blankets and t-shirts, rekindled uncomfortable memories of South Africa's racist past.
After over 12 hours of official silence, police minister Nathi Mthethwa confirmed at least 30 men had died when police tried to move 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes and sticks from a rocky outcrop at the mine, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
"A lot of people were injured and the number keeps on going up," he said in an interview on Talk Radio 702.
One radio station caller likened the incident, at Lonmin's Marikana platinum plant, to the 1960 Sharpeville township massacre near Johannesburg, when apartheid police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, killing more than 50.
In a front page editorial, the Sowetan asked whether anything had changed since 1994, when Nelson Mandela overturned three centuries of white domination to become the first black president of the continent's biggest economy.
"It has happened in this country before where the apartheid regime treated black people like objects," the paper, named after South Africa's biggest black township, said. "It is continuing in a different guise now."
As dawn broke, hundreds of police patrolled the dusty plains around the Marikana mine, which was forced to shut down this week as a rumbling union turf war that has hit the platinum sector this year boiled over into violence.
"There were no problems overnight. The problem is the hill over there where the shooting took place. I am not sure what will happen today," said Patience, a woman who lives in a shanty town near where the shooting place. She declined to give her full name.
Prior to Thursday, 10 people - including two policemen - had died in nearly a week of fighting between rival unions at what is Lonmin's flagship plant.
The London-headquartered company has been forced to shut down all its South African platinum operations, which account for 12 percent of global platinum output.
South Africa is home to 80 percent of the world's known platinum reserves, but rising power and labor costs and a steep decline in the price of the precious metal this year have left many mines struggling to stay afloat.
Although the striking Marikana miners were demanding huge pay hikes, the roots of the trouble lie in a challenge by the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) to the 25-year dominance of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a close ally of the ruling ANC.
"There is clearly an element in this that a key supporter of the ANC - the NUM - has come under threat from these protesting workers," said Nic Borain, an independent political analyst.
President Jacob Zuma, who faces an internal ANC leadership election in December, said he was "shocked and dismayed" at the violence, but made no comment on the police behavior.
"We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence," he said in a statement.
Crime scene investigators combed over the site of the shooting, which was cordoned off with yellow tape, collecting spent cartridges and the slain miners' bloodstained traditional weapons - machetes and spears.
Firearms were also recovered at the scene, they said, supporting police reports they were shot at first.
AMCU leaders have been criticized for telling the striking miners - many of whom are barely literate - that they were "prepared to die" rather than move from their protest hill.
Pre-crackdown footage of dancing miners waving machetes and licking the blades of home-made spears also raised similar questions about the habitual use of violence in industrial action 18 years after the end of apartheid.
"This culture of violence and protest, it must somehow be changed," said John Robbie, a prominent Johannesburg radio host. "You can't act like a Zulu impi in an industrial dispute in this day and age."
World platinum prices spiked nearly 3 percent on Thursday as the full extent of the violence became clear, and rose again on Friday to a 5-week high of $1,450 an ounce.
Lonmin shares in London and Johannesburg fell more than 5 percent to 4-year lows, bringing their losses since the violence began a week ago to nearly 20 percent.
(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Matthew Tostevin)
South African Police Kill Dozens of Striking Miners
South African police opened fire on a group of striking workers at a platinum mine on Thursday, in one of the deadliest days of protest since the apartheid era. The South African police ministry said more than 30 striking miners had been killed.
REUTERS - Heavily armed South African police patrolled Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine on Friday, where more than 30 striking miners were killed the previous day in a police crackdown that drew comparisons with apartheid-era brutality.
After more than 12 hours of official silence, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa confirmed that at least 30 people had died in the security operation at the mine, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Police opened fire with automatic weapons when 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes and sticks ignored orders to disperse.
Mthethwa said the death toll from the incident, which cut to the quick of South Africa’s post-apartheid psyche and sent world platinum prices more than two percent higher, was likely to rise.
“A lot of people were injured and the number keeps on going up,” he said in an interview on Talk Radio 702.
Mthethwa defended the police, saying officers had come under fire from the miners, members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), an upstart group that is challenging the 25-year dominance of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a close ally of the ruling ANC.
“From amongst the crowd, people opened fire on police and the police retaliated,” he said in earlier comments re-broadcast on the same station.
President Jacob Zuma said he was “shocked and dismayed” at what was one of the bloodiest police operations since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
After Thursday’s mayhem, the presence at Marikana of hundreds of police backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters ensured an eerie calm on the dusty plains around the mine, Lonmin’s flagship platinum operation.
“There were no problems overnight. The problem is the hill
over there where the shooting took place. I am not sure what
will happen today,” said Patience, a woman who lives in a shanty
town near where the shooting place. She declined to give her
Police crime scene investigators combed over the site of the shooting, which was cordoned off with yellow tape, collecting spent cartridges and bloodstained traditional weapons like machetes and spears which were carried by the slain miners.
They said firearms were also recovered at the scene.
London-headquartered Lonmin has been forced to shut down all its platinum operations, which account for 12 percent of global output, and its shares have fallen more than 13 percent since inter-union rivalry at Marikana boiled over a week ago.
South Africa is home to 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves, but rising power and labour costs and a steep decline in the price of the precious metal this year has left many mines struggling to stay afloat.
Prior to Thursday, 10 people - including two policemen - had died in nearly a week of fighting between AMCU and NUM factions at Marikana, the latest outburst of unrest from a rumbling eight-month union turf war in the platinum sector.
At least three people were killed in a similar round of fighting in January that led to a six-week closure of the world’s largest platinum mine, run nearby by Impala Platinum . That helped push the platinum price up 15 percent.
Mining company fires 13,000 after strike
South African mining company Impala Platinum, the world's number-two producer, said it fired 13,000 workers after they staged an illegal strike for better pay on Monday. That brings the number sacked by the company in the past month to 17,200.
By News Wires (text)
Impala Platinum, the world's number two producer, on Thursday fired 13,000 miners who went on an illegal strike in South Africa, the company said in a statement.
"Approximately 13,000 mining employees who participated in the illegal work stoppage at Impala Rustenburg... have been dismissed," parent company Implats said.
Miners downed tools on Monday demanding higher wages, grounding operations to a halt. Workers had been given until Wednesday to return to the job, the statement added.
Over the past month, the Johannesburg-based company has sacked a total of about 17,200 workers at its mine in the northwestern town of Rustenburg -- more than half of the 30,000 people employed in the town.
"There is no production at the mine," Implats spokeswoman Alice Lourens told AFP on Thursday.
"It's costing us in the region of 3,000 ounces of platinum a day."
Impala secured a court interdict against the strike and said it would fire those who still refused to work.
The company said it would rehire miners who wanted to reapply for work. Lourens could not say when this would start.
"We're still busy with the dismissal process," she said.
The company did not fear litigation because of the layoffs.
"It was an illegal strike because we were granted an interdict by the Labour Court," said Lourens.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Wednesday accused Impala of breaking its promises to negotiate further on issues beyond the salary dispute.
Miners striked when some workers received an 18 percent salary increase, but certain categories of labour were excluded, said NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka.
Impala produced 941,200 ounces of platinum in the financial year which ended June 2011. It is Implats' biggest platinum operation.
The company as a whole produced 1.84 million ounces in the previous financial year.
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