President Jacob Zuma called yesterday’s violent clash between miners and police in South Africa “tragic” and announced that his administration will be investigating the events.
Yesterday’s violent confrontation at the Lonmin Marikana platinum mine, nearly 60 miles from Johannesburg, came after a week of contentious protesting. During the riot, 34 people were killed and at least 78 were injured. According to reports, the platinum miners were on strike protesting working conditions and demanding higher wages when police opened fire.
The mine, owned by Lonmin, has been at the centre of a violent pay dispute, exacerbated by tensions between two rival trade unions.
Ten people had previously died in violence since the strike began last Friday.
The striking miners had gathered on a rocky hill overlooking Marikana, the third-largest platinum mine in the world.
Several injured people were treated at the scene after the violence
Union leaders and police had tried in vain to disperse the crowd, some of whom said they were prepared to die on the hill.
During the clashes, missiles – thought to be either petrol bombs or grenades – were thrown at police, who responded by opening fire, eyewitnesses said.
Although initial reports claimed police acted in self-defense, video accounts of the incident may prove otherwise.
Police said at a news conference that it was in self-defense, noting that strikers even possessed a pistol taken from a police officer they had beaten to death on Monday. But video footage indicates the miners may have simply been trying to flee tear gas that police had fired at them moments earlier. As the miners rushed away from a hill they had occupied and that was being tear-gassed, police opened fire, including with automatic rifles. Police were perhaps jumpy, knowing that the strikers were armed and that two officers had already died earlier in the week.
The violence has shocked and outraged South Africans. After initially coming out on the side of the police, President Zuma said he was “saddened and dismayed” and his thoughts were with the victims.
In an effort to calm the mounting conflict President Zuma noted: “We have to uncover the truth about what happened here. I have decided to institute a commission of inquiry. It will enable us to get to the real cause of the incident and derive the necessary lessons.”
He continued: “Today is not an occasion for blame, finger-pointing or recrimination. Today challenges us to restore calm and to share the pain of the affected families and communities. Today is about reminding ourselves of our responsibility as citizens.”
The BBC notes Lonmin is the world’s third-largest platinum producer and labor disputes such as this have happened before.
*Photo via the Associated Press