Memorial services for SA miners


South Africans held a memorial service today at a platinum mine where police shot dead 34 strikers in violence that revived memories of apartheid-era violence and exposed workers' anger over enduring inequalities since the end of white rule.

Memorial services are being held elsewhere across the country to honour all those killed violently in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates.

More than 1,000 people attended the memorial service in Marikana arranged by the government. Some 500 people crammed into a marquee pitched at Lonmin platinum mine, near the hill where police shot dead 34 striking miners in the deadliest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994.

Crowds spilled out into the fields outside, listening to hymns and prayers. Women wrapped in blankets wept and mourners placed flowers at the scene. Other memorials took place around the country, including downtown Johannesburg.

"Such a killing of people, of children, who haven't done anything wrong and they didn't have to die this way," said Baba Goloza whose two sons died. He blamed mine owner Lonmin for not taking care of its workers at its Marikana mine, northwest of Johannesburg.

Violence between rival labour unions exposed deadly levels of anger about low wages and what is seen as political favouritism in Africa's biggest economy. Ten people were killed in the turf war between rival unions, including two police officers and a union shop steward hacked to death with machetes.

President Jacob Zuma, speaking in Pretoria, named a panel to look into the actions of Lonmin, the police and the unions engaged in a deadly rivalry. However, he remains under attack from political rivals who accuse his government of poor policing and caring more for corporate interests than workers' rights.

Julius Malema, the expelled president of the youth wing of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, today blamed Mr Zuma's government for the deaths of the 34 miners in comments made at the memorial service in Marikana.

A trust fund for donations has been established, with Lonmin and Shanduka Group, which owns a stake in the company's mines, making contributions.

Several miners expressed anger at government ministers for visiting earlier in the week in luxury cars, driving past shantytowns and garbage-strewn fields around the mine. "They come here in big fancy cars and bodyguards. They know nothing about being poor," one miner said to his colleagues as they listened to speeches.

The relative of a miner killed in last week’s shootings said he wants to see some arrests. “If it were me I’d want everyone who was involved in this incident including the mine managers to be arrested, the whole lot of them, because a person’s life is not worth money,” Ubuntu Akumelisine said.

Mungiswa Mphumza, the sister of a dead miner from Eastern Cape, said she was at peace. “We have accepted everything that has happened and we ask that the dead rest in peace, there is nothing that we can do at the moment, what has happened has happened. God takes what he likes,” Ms Mphumza said.

Labour unrest in South Africa’s platinum belt spread yesterday, raising concerns that anger over low wages and poor living conditions could generate fresh violence.

The memorial service was held today in Marikana, South Africa. Photograph: Jacaranda Newsteam/Storyful

The violence has highlighted the African National Congress's (ANC) failure to ease income disparity which remains among the worst in the world while many of its members are accused of using political connections to get rich.

The powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), one of the rival groups at Lonmin, has been a launchpad to political power for several senior officials at the ANC - the former liberation movement that has held power since the end of apartheid. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, Mr Zuma's right-hand man, was an NUM leader before joining the party.

The NUM's rival, the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has sought support among workers who want more pay for their dangerous and dirty work, saying the NUM is not getting them a good deal and is too close to the mining companies - claims the NUM denies.