MARIKANA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's defence minister apologised yesterday to angry miners who held up plastic packets of bullet casings, the first government official to beg forgiveness for the police shootings that killed 34 striking miners, wounded another 78 and shocked the nation. It was the most deadly display of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula's apology came at the site of the killings where hundreds of mourners walked barefoot earlier in a ceremony to bless the site.
The minister spoke after one furious miner demanded to know why President Jacob Zuma has not come to address them, and threatened not to vote for the governing African National Congress.
"If Jacob Zuma doesn't want to come here, how does he expect to gain our votes?" One man shouted as a posse of government ministers gathered before hundreds of striking miners.
Another piped up: "Don't you know if the miners here don't vote for you, the ANC is going down?"
Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula responded: "We agree, as you see us standing in front of you here, that blood was shed at this place. We agree that it was not something to our liking and, as a representative of the government, I apologise."
When miners started shaking plastic bags of bullet casings at her, evidence of the many bullets that police fired in volleys last Thursday, she said: "I am begging, I beg and I apologise, may you find forgiveness in your hearts."
She added: "The blood that is boiling is not helping anyone here at all."
Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega was criticised this week for absolving her officers of guilt saying: "It was the right thing to do" to fire in alleged self-defence. No police officer was hurt in the shooting though two were savagely hacked to death by strikers last week.
The government did intervene in favour of the strikers, persuading mine managers that no striking miners should be fired in the week that South Africa officially mourns the killings, the presidency said yesterday.
Managers of Lonmin PLC platinum mine had ordered strikers to report for duty by 7:00 am yesterday or get fired, even as some family members still were searching for missing loved ones, not knowing whether they were dead or alive among some 250 arrested protesters or in one of the hospitals.