MARIKANA: President Jacob Zuma rushed home from a regional summit today and announced an official inquiry into a police shooting of striking miners that left 34 dead and 78 wounded, an incident that police claimed was self-defence despite video recordings suggesting the protesters were not attacking them but running from clouds of tear gas.
Wives of miners at the Lonmin platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg searched for loved ones missing from Thursday’s shooting and staged a protest, demanding to know why officers fired automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns at the strikers, many of whom had been armed with spears, machetes and clubs. “Police stop shooting our husbands and sons,” read a banner carried by the women on Friday. They kneeled before shotgun-toting police and sang a protest song, saying “What have we done?” in the Xhosa language.
At least 10 other people have been 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. Tensions remained high Friday among strikers, who are demanding monthly salary raises from $625 to $1,563.
“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,” winch operator Makhosi Mbongane told The Associated Press. “If they employ other people they won’t be able to work either. We will stay here and kill them.” South Africa faces myriad problems 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, health care and education.
The shootings ‘awaken us to the reality of the time bomb that has stopped ticking — it has exploded’, The Sowetan newspaper said in a front-page editorial Friday. “Africans are pitted against each other... They are fighting for a bigger slice of the mineral wealth of the country.”
The shootings appalled the country, recalling images of white police firing at anti-apartheid protesters in the 1960s and 1970s, though in this case it was mostly black police firing at black mine workers.
Police said the shootings were in self-defence, noting that strikers possessed a pistol taken from one of the slain officers. But video footage indicates that police shot the miners moments after firing tear gas at the hill the strikers were occupying, causing them to flee. National police Chief Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega said at news conference that Thursday was a dark day for South Africa and that it was no time for pointing fingers, even as people compared the shootings to apartheid-era state violence and political parties and labour unions demanded probe.