Several dead after SA police open fire on mine workers


POLICE WERE accused of a massacre last night after opening fire on mine workers in one of the worst days of protest in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

In scenes that evoked memories of some of the country’s darkest days, national television showed pictures of police in helmets and body armour shooting at workers amid shouting, panic and clouds of dust at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine.

After three minutes of gunfire, bodies littered the ground in pools of blood. It was claimed that as many as 18 people might have been killed. The deaths came after a week of turmoil at the Marikana mine that had already seen 10 people killed, including two police officers and two security guards.

Lonmin, the world’s third biggest platinum producer, was forced to suspend production at the mine, about 60 miles north-west of Johannesburg, after what it called an illegal strike escalated into an alleged turf war between rival unions.

Union leader Joseph Mathunjwa yesterday accused the Lonmin management of colluding with a rival union to orchestrate what he described as a massacre.

Mr Mathunjwa, president of the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), told the eNews channel: “We have to send condolences to those families whose members were brutally murdered by a lack of co-operation from management. We have done our bit. If the management had changed their commitment, surely lives could have been saved.”

The official death toll had not been revealed last night. A Reuters cameraman said he saw at least seven bodies, while the AMCU estimated 12 deaths. A reporter for the South African Press Association (Sapa) said he counted 18 bodies. An unspecified number suffered injuries.

South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, condemned the killings but made no reference to the handling of the situation by the police. “We are shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence,” he said. “We call upon the labour movement and business to work with government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further.”

The protests began last week when workers demanded a pay increase. The action turned deadly when the AMCU clashed with South Africa’s dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The NUM rejected the charge of collusion with mine bosses. Spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said: “We are not surprised by his allegation . . . It is not true. Everyone can see through these lies.” He blamed the AMCU for instigating the bloodshed. “These people said today they want to die on the hilltop. They said they will bring their children to die there. That is why we say the ringleaders must be arrested.”

Patrick Craven, spokesman for Cosatu, which is aligned to the ANC, said it would “convene an urgent meeting of the unions’ leaderships to discuss what is emerging as a co-ordinated political strategy to use intimidation and violence, manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, in a concerted drive to create breakaway ‘unions’ and divide and weaken the trade union movement”. – (Guardian service)