On the Deaths of South African Mineworkers
Police Open Fire on Protesting Mine Workers in South Africa
By Brian Finnegan
August 17, 2012
An on-going industrial conflict escalated into
tragedy yesterday as police opened fire on a group of
protesting workers at the Marikana Mine and
surrounding area in Rustenburg, South Africa,
about 50 miles from Johannesburg. The platinum
mine is owned by U.K.-based Lonmin. The violence
has taken 38 lives and injured more than 75 people.
The AFL-CIO extends deep condolences to the
families and friends of all those who have lost their
lives in this latest violence. The AFL-CIO also joins
global unions International Trade Union
Confederation (ITUC), IndustriALL and South
Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in
calling for calm to return to the platinum mine and
demanding a full and thorough investigation from
law enforcement. Lonmin needs to ensure calm and
safety is restored so that miners can return to work.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a former mine
worker himself, was appalled by yesterday's events
at the Marikana Mine:
Once again, mineworkers who produce so much
wealth under often dangerous daily working
conditions have paid the highest price-their lives- in
a completely avoidable industrial conflict. We send
our deepest condolences to the families of these
workers and call on the South African government
to take immediate action to address the brutality.
The Central Executive Committee of the Congress of
South African Trade Unions (COSATU) will convene
an urgent meeting of the unions' leadership to
discuss a coordinated strategy among its affiliates to
strengthen their response to this tragedy and
challenge to workers' unity and strength.]
Miners' Wives Rage at South African Police Brutality after 'Massacre'
By David Smith
August 17, 2012
Nosisieko Jali's husband is missing. She has heard
a rumour that a bullet hit him in the head, yet he
survived. One witness said all his clothes were torn.
"I don't know where he is," said Jali, numb with
anxiety. "The hospital wouldn't let me come inside. I
Jali is among scores of wives at the Lonmin
platinum mine in Marikana still waiting to discover
if their husband is in a jail, hospital or mortuary
after one of the bloodiest days in South Africa since apartheid.
Thirty-four people were killed and 78 injured on
Thursday when police with automatic rifles, pistols
and shotguns opened fire on the strikers, many of
whom were armed with spears, machetes and clubs
as they demonstrated for higher wages. The
shocking images, beamed to TV viewers around the
world, provoked comparisons with massacres by the
white minority regime of the country's past.
On Friday, next to the killing field, wives took the
place of their dead and wounded husbands to stage
an angry, emotionally charged demonstration. The
women raged against police brutality, mine
exploitation and a lack of official information that
has left them agonisingly in the dark.
"How can we know whether people are dead or
missing?" demanded Nowelcime Bosanathi, 35. "My
husband went to the protest with a stick. I worried
he might be dead. Then he called last night to say
he's in a police van and he doesn't know where he's
going. Now his phone is on voicemail."
Waving sticks, whistling and ululating, the women
performed the apartheid-era toyi-toyi dance up and
down a dirt road. They sang songs, some mournful,
some defiant, warning: "When you strike a woman,
you strike a rock" and invoking the memory of
heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle such as Oliver
Tambo. They joined hands in a circle for a soulful
rendition of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, the national
anthem and originally a hymn. They kneeled before
police armed with shotguns and sang "What have
we done?" in the Xhosa language.
The group of about 100 women also brandished
homemade cardboard placards with handwritten
slogans condemning the police. "Police stop
shooting our husbands and sons," one said.
Another, referring to the new national police
commissioner, Riah Phiyega, read: "Piega you
celebrating your position by blood of our families."
Primrose South, 51, was still waiting for news about
Mishack Mzilikazi, 35, who lives on her property
and is considered part of the family. "I last saw him
at 8am on Thursday. He was going to work with his
phone but now it's off. He also had a stick and he
"I don't know where he is now. He could be in
prison or he could be dead. I don't know."
She added: "We are feeling bad because the children
now are crying, are hungry, are afraid even to sleep
at night. The wives have no husbands now. Their
husbands are lying dead in the forest."
Whatever did happen here there is no shortage of
blame - and competing accounts. The women point
at the police and the Lonmin mine management.
South, who works as a mine store manager, said:
"The management sent the police to kill our
husbands, brothers and sons. But we will fight for
our rights like them."
Many of these women followed their husbands from
Eastern Cape province or neighbouring countries
such as Lesotho, Swaziland or Zimbabwe. They live
in the nearby Nkanini settlement in cramped shacks
with pit toilets and an intermittent water supply.
Above one of one of the world's richest platinum
deposits, goats wander in adjacent scrubland strewn
with discarded plastic bags and rubbish.
They denied that the workers had opened fire first
and said a turf war between rival unions was a
sideshow to the dispute over pay.
The unions are scrapping for members. The National
Union of Mineworkers, a supporter of the ANC, had
signed up to a pay deal with Lonmin. But the
militant Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU) rejected this and
pushed for wages to be trebled. This comes amid a
wider debate on whether the governing African
National Congress (ANC) should curb mine owners' power.
The youth league of the ANC argues that
nationalisation of the country's mines and farms is
the only way to redress the injustices of the past.
The youth league said: "South Africa's exploitative
mining regime, capitalist greed and the poverty of
our people is the cause."
For its part, Lonmin announced that it would
provide support to all the families that have suffered
loss this week. Simon Scott, its chief financial
officer, said: "We have established a help desk at
Lonmin's Andrew Saffy Hospital, which will help
families with the identification of bodies, assist with
all the burial arrangements and offer bereavement counselling.
"Lonmin commits to provide funding for the
education of all the children of employees who lost
their lives. This funding will cover education costs
from primary school to university."
The company's London-listed share price slumped
9% early yesterday, though it ended 1.3% down at
639.5p. It plunged to a nine-year low on the
Johannesburg exchange, where it is also listed.
The South African Institute of Race Relations called
for the immediate suspension of all police officers
involved in the shootings.
It said: "There is clear evidence that policemen
randomly shot into the crowd with rifles and
handguns. There is also evidence of their continuing
to shoot after a number of bodies can be seen
dropping and others turning to run.
"This is reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre in
1960," it said.
The police, though, insisted they acted in self-
defence, arguing that the mine workers even
possessed a pistol taken from a police officer they
are alleged to have beaten to death on Monday.
At least 10 other people were killed during the week-
old strike at the mine,80 miles north-west of
Johannesburg, including two police officers said to
have been battered to death by strikers and two
mine security guards.
It was into this highly charged atmosphere that
President Jacob Zuma stepped, having cut short a
visit to a regional summit. He announced that a
commission of inquiry would be held into the
tragedy. "This inquiry will enable us to get to the real
cause of the incident and derive the real lessons
too," he said during a visit to Marikana.
"We've all been saddened and dismayed by the
events of the past few days and hours around the
Marikana mine. The loss of life among workers and
members of the police service is tragic and
"These events are not what we want to see or want
to become accustomed to in a democracy that is
bound by the rule of law and where we are creating
a better life for all our people.
"Today our thoughts are primarily with the families
of those who have lost their lives. As a government
and as fellow citizens, we offer our sincere
condolences to families who have lost their loved
ones. Our thoughts are also with those who are
He continued: "The events of the past few days have
unfortunately been visited upon a nation that is
hard at work addressing the persistent challenges of
poverty, unemployment and inequality.
"We undertake this work in conditions of peace and
stability, working with all sectors in our country.
"We assure the South African people in particular
that we remain fully committed to ensuring that this
country remains a peaceful, stable, productive and
thriving nation, that is focused on improving the
quality of life of all, especially the poor and working
"It is against this background that we have to
uncover the truth about what happened here."
He went on: "Today challenges us to restore calm
and share the pain of the affected families and
"This is not a day to apportion blame. It is a day for
us to come together as a nation. It is also a day to
start rebuilding and healing."