Murder still hangs in the air one year on from shooting at South African mine

Rivalry between unions inflaming tensions in region around ‘Marikana massacre’

South African president Jacob Zuma: called for reflection as a means to restore peace in the mining industry. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

South African president Jacob Zuma: called for reflection as a means to restore peace in the mining industry. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters


A year has passed since police shot dead 34 striking miners in South Africa’s North West province, but despite public outrage over the deaths, murder still hangs in the air at the mine in Marikana where the shootings occurred.

Last Sunday the latest victim, a 44-year-old female National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) shop steward, was shot in the head as she walked home from a local shop, police spokesperson Thulani Ngubane said.

The shop steward’s death brings to eight the total number of union members murdered in the area since police opened fire – in full view of international and local media – on miners seeking a wage increase from the Lonmin mining company.

NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the most recent incident was “part of a total onslaught against us” by Amcu, a rival militant union with which it has been involved in a turf war since early last year.

Miners began flocking to Amcu’s ranks after becoming disillusioned with NUM, which they believed was more sympathetic to the mining bosses than the workers it purported to represent. The miners want to be paid 12,500 rand (€945) a month in wages.

Inter-union violence had already left 10 people dead, including two policemen, in the week preceding what has become known as the Marikana massacre. The overall death toll from the period around the August 16th shooting is 44, with a further 78 injured.

Following the shooting, which was filmed by four camera crews, strikes spread quickly across the platinum mining sector and then on to some gold operations, bringing the mining industry, one of South Africa’s economic pillars, to a standstill for months.

Mine stoppages due to the strike actions cost South Africa 15.3 billion rand in 2012, according to industry figures.

On Tuesday, Lonmin mine bosses formally recognised Amcu as the main union at its company, a move that has increased tensions dramatically in the area in an already emotional week.

Government ally
Amcu now represents 70 percent of Lonmin’s 27,000 employees, leaving NUM – an affiliate of union federation Cosatu, which is in a tripartite alliance with the African National Congress-led government – with only 20 per cent of the workforce as members.

On Wednesday South African president Jacob Zuma called for reflection as a means to restore peace in the local mining industry.

“The incident [on August 16th, 2012] in particular shocked the whole country and caused untold pain and numbness amongst all South Africans,” he said.

“It was a tragic and sad loss of life,” he added. “We must all resolve to do everything possible to prevent a repeat of similar incidents.”

Troubled inquiry
In the months following the shooting Mr Zuma set up the Farlam Commission to investigate the incident. However, the inquiry has run into numerous difficulties and has yet to come to any conclusion. Lawyers representing wounded workers have withdrawn due to a lack of funding.

Amcu and other civil society groups have organised a Marikana commemoration rally for today. The authorities have warned it should be used to restore peace and stability in the mining sector, rather than to instigate violence.

“Despite 10 months of a judicial commission of inquiry, we have yet to hear any substantive testimony that provides clear answers,” a statement issued by the Marikana Massacre Anniversary Organising Committee reads.

“How can there be even a modicum of healing, of reconciliation without a full disclosure of how and why this massacre took place?”