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AFRICA > Mine massacre shocks S Africa

MARIKANA, South Africa

A crackdown that killed dozens of striking miners in South Africa evokes comparisons with apartheid-era brutality and leads the media and South African people to examine the country’s post-apartheid soul

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Police surround miners lying on the floor who went on a strike at a mountain close to the mine near Rustenburg. Thirty-four miners died when police tried to move 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes. AFP photo

Police surround miners lying on the floor who went on a strike at a mountain close to the mine near Rustenburg. Thirty-four miners died when police tried to move 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes. AFP photo

The killing by police of more than 30 striking platinum miners in South Africa in the bloodiest security operation since apartheid has pushed the country’s people and the media to question 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, showing a phalanx of officers opening fire with automatic weapons on a small group of men in blankets and T-shirts, rekindled uncomfortable memories of South Africa’s racist past.

Police chief Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega said 34 miners died and another 78 were wounded when police tried to move 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes and sticks from a rocky outcrop at the mine, 100 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg.

The chief said that her forces opened fire in self-defense after coming under attack by armed mine workers, according to Agence France-Presse. “Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves.” The wildcat strike started on Aug. 10 as about 3,000 workers demanded that London-listed Lonmin triple their wages from the current monthly salary of 486 euros. Ten people, including two police, had been killed in the lead up to the deadly raid on Aug. 16 as the strike degenerated into clashes between the unions.

‘Time bomb exploded’

The shootings are one of the worst in South Africa since the end of the apartheid era, and came as a rift deepens between the country’s governing African National Congress and an impoverished electorate confronting massive unemployment and growing poverty and inequality. They “awaken us to the reality of the time bomb that has stopped ticking – it has exploded,” The Sowetan newspaper said in an editorial, the Associated Press reported.

The daily 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.
Political parties and labor unions called for an independent inquiry. The incident drew condemnation from the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, social media users and evoked comparisons with apartheid-era brutality. Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, said he was “shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence.

Leaders of the radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which represented most of the strikers, accused police of a massacre.

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.

August/18/2012

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