Mine Strike In South Africa Turns Violent, 34 Killed

Police Accounts

South Africa - Typical mine site in the platinum producing region.

South Africa – Typical mine site in the platinum producing region.

Armed strikers attacked the police force contingent which was 500-strong, said South Africa’s Police Commissioner, Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega.

The South African Police Service said the miners refused to disarm, attacking weapons including firearms taken from the two police officers killed earlier in the week.

The day after the shooting Phiyega released a detailed account of police efforts to prevent a violent end to the standoff.

In the statement, Phiyega claimed that since the beginning of the week police attempted several times to negotiate a peaceful end to the strike. Phiyega also claimed the SAPS had learned that the crowd did not intend to leave peacefully and a violence was a likely.

Phiyega asserts that efforts were made to increase defensive crowd control measures by using concertina wire barricades, water cannons, rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. The idea was to break the strikers up and drive them into an area where police could control them.

It was at this point Phiyega claims the miners turned violent, attacking the police.

Phiyega claims police officers directly in the path of the attack had retreated until they believed that their safety was at risk. They were then cleared to use maximum force to halt the attack and protect themselves.

Eyewitness and Journalist Accounts

According to the BBC, eyewitness reports suggest “the shooting took place after a group of demonstrators, some holding clubs and machetes, rushed at a line of police officers.”

The Times of London reported police did not use live ammunition until fired upon by a striking worker with a shotgun. The Sowetan newspaper reported striking miners appeared to have fired on the police, though the group that advanced towards the police appeared to be “peacefully gathering.”

Journalist Poloko Tau of South Africa’s The Star newspaper said police maintained that they had been fired on first, but he did not see this firsthand.

Reuters photographer Siphiwe Sibeko was present at the scene and said he saw at least one protester shoot a pistol before police opened fire.

Al Jazeera reported police in armored vehicles used water cannons to force strikers with into an area surrounded by razor wire, at which point the shooting began.

Following Protests

The day after the shootings a group of miners’ wives protested, singing and chanting slogans and songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. They denied that the striking miners had shot first. They insisted that the strike was about wages and demanded that the police officers responsible for the shooting be fired.

Most Lonmin’s approximately 28,000 employees of did not go to work the Monday after the shooting, despite a threat they would be fired.

A spokesperson for Lonmin said that 27% of its employees showed up. Lonmin’s chief financial officer Simon Scott, said “nobody will be asked to report for duty if the police consider them in danger of reprisals.”

The situation of soaring commodity prices, high mining company profits and the stagnet wages of the minworkers remains unresolved aimed bloodshed.

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