Already a Bloomberg.com user?
Sign in with the same account.
South African police killed 34 striking workers at Lonmin Plc (LMI)’s Marikana platinum-mining complex yesterday, the worst death toll in police action since the end of apartheid in 1994.
At least 78 people were injured in the clashes, Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega told reporters in Marikana in North West province today.
Violence erupted yesterday after police used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of workers gathered on a hilltop near the mine. Clashes between rival labor unions at the mine led to a six-day standoff with police in which 10 people had already died, including two officers. Police say they acted in self-defense yesterday after coming under attack from the workers armed with spears, machetes and pistols.
“Police had no option but to open fire,” Phiyega said. “This is a dark moment for the country. This is no time for pointing fingers.”
President Jacob Zuma cut short his trip to Mozambique, where he was attending a regional heads-of-state summit, and will travel to Marikana today, his office said in a statement.
About 3,000 rock-drill operators went on an illegal strike on Aug. 10 demanding that Lonmin increase their pay to 12,500 rand a month ($1,505). The protests turned violent this week because of rivalries between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the National Union of Mineworkers, according to Lonmin. AMCU has tried to recruit workers at the mine to challenge the dominance of NUM.
AMCU’s President Joseph Mathunjwa wept today as he told reporters in Johannesburg that he pleaded with miners to disperse before police opened fire. The ruling African National Congress, opposition political parties, including the Democratic Alliance, and business groups called on Zuma to appoint a judicial inquiry into the killings.
“It’s a national tragedy,” Dianne Kohler Barnard, a spokeswoman on police matters for the Democratic Alliance, said in a phone interview. “An independent inquiry must take place.”
The police action is the worst in the country since 1985, when apartheid security forces shot and killed 20 marchers at a funeral procession in Langa in Eastern Cape, according to the Johannesburg-based South African Institute of Race Relations. There was evidence that police randomly shot into the crowd of protestors yesterday in a scene reminiscent of the massacre in Sharpeville in 1960, in which 69 people protesting the policies of racial discrimination were killed, according to the institute.
Phiyega said police “did what we could with what we had” and their task “is to protect the community and our members.”
Protests have turned more violent in South Africa since 2006. Eight police officers are currently facing charges related to the death of an unarmed protester, Andries Tatane, in Ficksburg in the central Free State province, in April 2011. He was shot and beaten by police during a community march over the lack of delivery of government services. Photos of his death were broadcast on national television and published in newspapers, stoking condemnation from opposition political parties.
“After we became a democracy, nobody bothered to train them to deal with this sort of situation,” Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, said in a phone interview today. “Some police officers were killed earlier in the week and that made police even more disinclined to do what police are supposed to do, which is to stop violence, rather than cause violence.”
Siyonela Cebile, 34, who was among the protestors yesterday said police used water cannons on the back of armored vehicles, known as Casspirs, to disperse the crowd.
“The people were sitting on the rocks, stood up when the Casspirs came,” Cebile said in an interview outside a hospital in Marikana where he visited his injured brother. “The police pointed firearms at us and opened fire.”
Johannesburg-based eNews Channel interviewed a woman who wept as she said she was searching for her husband. South African newspapers carried front-page photos today of police in riot gear and armed with rifles standing over about six bodies slumped on the ground.
The violence at Marikana, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the capital, Pretoria, is a “public-order rather than a labor relations-associated matter,” Lonmin Chairman Roger Phillimore said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Lonmin shares fell as much as 8.6 percent to 592.5 pence today and was at 637.5 pence as of 12:32 p.m. in London. Platinum for immediate delivery gained 0.7 percent to $1,452 an ounce.
Earlier this year fighting between the unionists at Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. (IMP)’s operation close to Marikana led to the closure of the world’s biggest platinum mine for six weeks and four people were killed.
Eighteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is struggling to cut a 25 percent unemployment rate and boost incomes for about 35 percent of the population that live on less than $51 a month. Crime is still rampant, with the murder rate of 31.9 per 100,000 people more than six times that of the U.S.
“We have a tremendous problem here in terms of inherited inequalities and we have a police force that doesn’t know how to deal with public violence in a human way,” Friedman said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Hill in Johannesburg at firstname.lastname@example.org; Franz Wild in Johannesburg at email@example.com; Sikonathi Mantshantsha in Johannesburg at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at email@example.com