MARIKANA, South Africa (AP) — Frantic wives searched for missing loved ones, President Jacob Zuma rushed home from a regional summit and some miners vowed a fight to the death yesterday as police announced a shocking casualty toll from the previous day’s shooting by officers of striking miners: 34 dead and 78 wounded.
Wives of miners at the Lonmin platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg took the place of dead and wounded husbands yesterday in staging a protest.
But this time instead of asking for higher wages as the miners had done, the women demanded to know why police had opened fire Thursday with automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns on the strikers, many of whom had been armed with spears, machetes and clubs, as they rushed toward the officers.
Police said at a news conference that it was in selfdefence, 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.
“Police stop shooting our husbands and sons,” read a banner carried by the women yesterday. They kneeled before shotgun-toting police and sang a protest song, saying “What have we done?” in the Xhosa language.
At least 10 other people were killed during the week-old strike, including the two police officers battered to death by strikers and two mine security guards burned alive when strikers set their vehicle ablaze.
Makhosi Mbongane, a 32-year-old winch operator, said mine managers should have come to the striking workers rather than send police. Strikers were demanding monthly salary raises from $625 to $1,563. Mbongane vowed that he was not going back to work and would not allow anyone else to do so either.
“They can beat us, kill us and kick and trample on us with their feet, do whatever they want to do, we aren’t going to go back to work,” he told The Associated Press. “If they employ other people they won’t be able to work either. We will stay here and kill them.”
Research released by the Bench Marks Foundation, a non-governmental organisation monitoring the practices of multinational mining corporations, found that Lonmin had a bad track record with high levels of fatalities and keeping workers in “very poor living conditions”.
According to the report released Tuesday, workers often live in deteriorating shacks without electricity. Some children suffer from chronic illnesses due to sewage spills caused by broken drainage.
The mining company said earlier that it would withhold comment on the report until the conflict situation cooled down.
Myriad problems are facing South Africa 18 years after white racist rule ended, including growing inequality between a white minority joined by a small black elite while most blacks endure high unemployment and inadequate housing, health care and education.
The shootings “awaken us to the reality of the time bomb that has stopped ticking — it has exploded,” The Sowetan newspaper said in a front-page editorial yesterday. “Africans area pitted against each other... They are fighting for a bigger slice of the mineral wealth of the country.”