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South Africa police say they killed 34 miners

Friday, August 17, 2012 | 8:51 AM    

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JOHANNESBURG, 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 as police finally announced the toll from the previous day's shooting by officers of striking platinum miners: 34 dead and 78 wounded.

Police Chief Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega yesteday day was a dark day for South Africa and no time for pointing fingers, as people compared the shootings to apartheid-era state violence and political parties and labor unions demanded an investigation. Phiyega took over in June after two police commissioners were indicted for corruption and other charges. She already had her work cut out trying to reform a corrupt and scandal-ridden force.

Yesterday's shootings are seen as a microcosm of the myriad problems 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.

Zuma's government has played down demands that South Africa's mines and farms be nationalized. His party's powerful youth wing argues that nationalization is the only way to redress the evils of the apartheid past. Zuma's office confirmed that he had left a regional summit in Mozambique and was on his way to the mine, 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

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 Friday. "Africans area pitted against each other... They are fighting for a bigger slice of the mineral wealth of the country."

At hospitals in the area, people gathered, hoping to find missing family members among the wounded. At the scrubland scene of the killings, a woman carrying a baby on her back said she was looking for a missing miner.

"My husband left yesterday morning at 7 a.m. to come to the protest and he never came back," said Nobantu Mkhuze.

At least 10 other people were killed during the week-old strike, including 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."

Shares in platinum miner Lonmin PLC fell as much as 8 percent after it was revealed that South African police officers killed more than 30 striking miners at the company's mine. Since violence broke out last weekend at the Marikana mine, shares have fallen by as much as 20 percent, wiping some 390 million pounds ($610 million) off the company's market value. The company, the world's third-largest platinum miner, has also been hit by Thursday's announcement that Chief Executive Ian Farmer is hospitalized with a serious illness.

Lonmin PLC chairman Roger Phillimore issued a statement today saying the deaths were deeply regretted.

While the initial walkout and protest focused on wages, violence has been fueled by the struggles between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the upstart and more radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

NUM secretary-general Frans Baleni has said that some of his union members were on a hit list, including a shop steward killed Tuesday by strikers.

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