JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) — Miners and their families welcomed expelled politician Julius Malema yesterday as he told the thousands who gathered at the site where 34 miners were killed last week that South African police had no right to fire the live bullets that killed them.
Malema, the former youth leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC), arrived as family members continued to hunt for loved ones missing since Thursday's shootings. Women said they did not know if their husbands and sons were among the dead, or among the 78 wounded or some 256 arrested by police on charges from public violence to murder.
"They had no right to shoot," Malema said, even if the miners had opened fire first.
Malema is the first politician to address the miners at the site during a more than week-long saga in which 10 people were killed before Thursday's shootings — including two police officers butchered to death and two mine security guards whom strikers burned alive in their vehicle. He said he had come because the Government had turned its back on the strikers.
Strikers complained earlier that President Jacob Zuma had not come to hear their side of the story when he flew to the Marikana platinum mine on Friday, cutting short his part in a regional summit in neighbouring Mozambique so that he could visit wounded miners in hospital.
Zuma said he was organising a commission of inquiry to get to the truth about the shootings.
Malema, who was expelled in April for sowing divisions in Zuma's African National Congress party, charged some top-ranking ANC members had shares in the Lonmin PLC platinum mine and implied that they had no interest in seeing miners earn higher wages. Some 3,000 drilling operators at the mine, 70 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, have been demanding an increase from the minimum wage of R5,500 (US$690) a month to R12,500 (US$1,560).
Malema called for Zuma and his police minister to resign or back the striking miners' wage demands — a call that brought cheers from the rally.
"President Zuma presided over the massacre of our people," Malema said.
When Malema arrived, the women ululated their welcome and men who had been sitting stood up and clapped. There were more cheers when Malema persuaded police at the scene to withdraw several hundred metres with their armoured cars.
South Africans are in shock over the killings. The police said they acted to save their lives after a group of miners, armed mainly with machetes and clubs, charged at them, and at least one miner shot at them.
Police responded with volleys of automatic gunfire and pistols.