Tensions abate as SA mine owners drop threat to fire workers

 

TENSIONS OUTSIDE the South African mine where dozens of striking miners were killed by police last week abated somewhat yesterday following the decision by its owners to drop a threat to fire workers refusing to return underground.

Lonmin’s decision to back down came after the government pleaded with it to withdraw the ultimatum while the nation was mourning those who died in the tragedy at the Marikana platinum mine in the North West province.

Mining giant Lonmin had earlier said that over 33 per cent of its staff had turned up for work yesterday, 19.5 per cent of whom were rock drillers, the group taking part in the illegal strike that had led to the confrontation with the police.

The atmosphere around the mine was likely more subdued yesterday because former African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema had agreed to lead the strikers to the Marikana police station where they opened a case of murder against the South African Police Services.

“I want an independent investigation into this. People have died and we need answers because I don’t trust President [Jacob] Zuma and his inquiry,” Mr Malema told reporters outside the station yesterday, in reference to the independent judicial inquiry established by the government to investigate the incident.

Meanwhile, independent video evidence emerged yesterday that appears to show a gunman among the striking miners moments before the police opened fire, killing 34 miners and injuring up to 78 others. A further 10 people, including three policemen, died during the strike in the days leading up to Thursday’s shooting.

The footage supplied by the Al-Jazeera network shows a man among the miners shooting at the police just before they resorted to live ammunition.

Whether this will add weight to the police force’s claim they acted in self-defence remains unclear at this point, but there are growing calls from civil society groups to investigate their assertion.

The General Council of the Bar of SA said yesterday weekend media reports claiming that about 400 rounds of ammunition were fired by police during the incident meant the self-defence claim should be tested in a court of law.

The South African embassy in Dublin yesterday issued a statement saying a book of condolences for the families of those lost in the incident would be opened at its premises from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon this week.