SA mourns mine violence victims

Aug 23 2012 14:06

Marikana - Christian hymns sung in Zulu and Xhosa rang out from a white tent near the site of South Africa's bloodiest police action since apartheid, as the nation mourned the dead on Thursday.

"We are shocked as a nation about what happened. None of us ever thought it would happen again," Anglican Bishop Johannes Seoka told the thousands of people gathered near Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine.

Police gunned down 34 miners one week ago during a wildcat strike that had already left eight other workers and two policemen dead.

After the bishop's remarks, the crowd burst into an apartheid-era Zulu funeral song, "Senzeni na", which means "What have we done?"

"Police and soldiers, what have we done to be killed?" the crowd sang.

Police kept their distance as tensions still ran high among workers, with security remarkably lighter than the heavy forces deployed here for more than a week.

"We don't want to see police today, they must stay far away," said Nkosinathi, a Lonmin miner who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal.

"They bring back very ugly, very painful memories, they must move away."

Notably absent were politicians, who kept away to allow religious leaders to conduct the proceedings.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who met with miners on Wednesday, was in Pretoria where he was expected to unveil his judicial commission of inquiry into the police crackdown.

Police are also investigating the killings, while the independent police watchdog is looking into the conduct of the officers who opened fire at the crowd that was armed mainly with spears, clubs and machetes.

Lonmin and the nearby Impala Platinum mine closed to allow workers to attend the memorial, the centrepiece of ceremonies held across the country, as many of the victims were migrant workers whose bodies have already returned to their home villages.

The other major service was in Mthatha, in the rural Eastern Cape province, that was home to 28 of the 34 killed by police.

Grief engulfed the Methodist church hall, with relatives of the dead weeping and wailing loudly.

"The Marikana massacre must be a lesson. It must unite the workers across the country to fight for equality," Mthatha mayor Dingaani Myolo said.

Other services were planned for later in the day in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), whose emergence has fomented violence at platinum mines since January, held its own service early Thursday at the Implats mine.

Labour disputes in South Africa's platinum belt have turned increasingly violent this year.

Three people died at the Implats mine during a wildcat strike that ended in February. Ten were killed at Lonmin in the days after the illegal strike began on August 10.

The violence has been blamed on union rivalries, as an aggressive Amcu seeks to gain membership from the dominant National Union of Mineworkers, one of the country's most powerful unions and a major ally of the ANC.

About 3 000 rock drill operators have spearheaded the strike at Lonmin, which employs a total of 28 000 people there. The drillers also appear to be at the centre of disputes at nearby mines.

Zuma met with the strikers on Wednesday, seeking to ease tensions and to address concerns that the government has ignored their plight.

His labour minister, Mildred Oliphant, also held talks with Amcu late on Tuesday.

The strikers are demanding a monthly wage of R12 500, saying they currently earn R4 000.

Lonmin says that if bonus and other perks are included, the rock drillers earn around R11 000, with a 9% increase set for October.

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amcu  |  num  |  mining unrest



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