South African police reveal 34 miners died and 78 were wounded when armed officers opened fire on strikers
By KEITH GLADDIS
Link showing video of shooting and protest (graphic content)
Police in South Africa say 34 miners were killed and another 78 injured when officers fired at strikers armed with ‘dangerous weapons’.
Police chief Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega told a press conference today that her officers acted to protect themselves when miners armed with spears and machetes charged towards them.
Shocking video of the incident emerged yesterday, showing police fire automatic weapons and handguns into the crowd of strikers for about a minute.
Phiyega said the strikers had not dispersed earlier, despite police use of water cannon and stun grenades.
The shooting is one of the worst involving police in South Africa since apartheid.
President Jacob Zuma is coming home from a summit in Mozamqigue to address the crisis that is worsening the rift between his ruling party and an increasingly angry electorate facing massive unemployment, poverty and inequality.
The brutal scenes took place at the Marikana platinum mine, which is owned by British miner Lonmin.
Pictures taken at the scene of the shooting showed bodies lying on the ground in pools of blood.
Footage broadcast on South African television showed police letting off a volley of gunfire at the mine, 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg.
There were suspicions that some of the miners may have been armed with guns also.
The shootings recalled images of white police firing at anti-apartheid protesters in the 1960s and 1970s, but in this case it was mostly black police firing at black mine workers.
The South Africa Police Service has defended officers’ actions, saying in a statement 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.’
President Jacob Zuma has said he is ‘shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence’.
Lonmin, the world?s third biggest platinum miner, had threatened to sack 3,000 rock drill operators if they failed to end a wildcat pay strike at its flagship Marikana mine, where 96 per cent of all the company?s platinum production comes from.
The company, which is registered on the London Stock Exchange and has its UK headquarters in central London, says it has so far lost six days of production, which represents ?300,000 tonnes of ore, or 15,000 platinum equivalent ounces?.
The unrest at the mine began last Friday as some 3,000 workers walked off the job over pay in what management described as an illegal strike.
Those who tried to go to work on Saturday were attacked, according to management and the country?s National Union of Mineworkers.
In a statement, Lonmin said striking workers would be sacked if they did not appear at their shifts today. ?The striking (workers) remain armed and away from work,? the statement read. ?This is illegal.’
The authorities claim the crowd killed two security guards on Sunday by setting their car ablaze, and that angry mobs killed two other workers and overpowered police, killing two officers by Monday. The next day, operations at the mines appeared to come to a standstill as workers stayed away.
Police moved in on striking workers gathered near the mine yesterday and urged them to give up their weapons, including machetes and clubs.
Some left, though others began war chants and soon started marching toward the township near the mine.
Police used a water cannon, stun grenades and tear gas to try to break up the crowd.
A group of miners are reported to have the rushed suddenly through the scrub and underbrush at a line of officers.
Television images showed officers opening fire, with miners falling to the ground.
The clashes have been fuelled by struggles between the dominant NUM and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
Police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said an investigation into the shooting was underway. Political parties and labour union, including the ANC, have called for an independent inquiry.
Lonmin chairman Roger Philimore issued a statement on Friday saying the deaths were ‘deeply regretted’. But he emphasised that the mine regarded it as ‘a public order rather than a labour relations associated matter’.
Lonmin, previously known as Lonrho, formed in the UK in 1909. It was involved in a series of takeovers during the 1970s and was criticised by then prime minister Edward Heath for being the ?unacceptable face of capitalism?, following a sanctions scandal involving trade with what was then Rhodesia ? now Zimbabwe.
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