Dawn News

Police: More than 30 killed in South Africa shooting

A policeman collects weapons that were supposedly used by protesting miners after they were shot outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 16, 2012
A policeman collects weapons that were supposedly used by protesting miners after they were shot outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 16, 2012. –Reuters Photo

JOHANNESBURG: South African police officers killed more than 30 striking workers at a Lonmin PLC platinum mine who charged a line of officers trying to disperse them, authorities said Friday.

The shooting Thursday is one of the worst in South Africa since the end of the apartheid era.

Police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi told The Associated Press on Friday that more than 30 people were killed. He said an investigation into the shooting near Marikana, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg was underway.

The shooting happened Thursday afternoon after police failed to get the striking miners to hand over machetes, clubs and other weapons.

Some miners did leave, though others carrying weapons began war chants and soon started marching toward the township near the mine, said Molaole Montsho, a journalist with the South African Press Association who was at the scene.

The police opened up with a water cannon first, then used stun grenades and tear gas to try and break up the crowd, Montsho said.

Suddenly, a group of miners rushed through the underbrush and tear gas at a line of police officers. Officers immediately opened fire, with miners falling to the ground. Dozens of shots were fired by police armed with automatic rifles and pistols.

Images broadcast by private television station e.tv carried the sound of a barrage of automatic gunfire that ended with police officers shouting: ''Cease fire!'' By that time, bodies were lying in the dust, some pouring blood.

Another image showed some miners, their eyes wide, looking in the distance at heavily armed police officers in riot gear.

It was an astonishing development in a country that has been a model of stability since racist white rule ended with South Africa's first all-race elections in 1994.

The shooting recalled images of white police firing at anti-apartheid protesters in the 1960s and 1970s, but in this case it was mostly black police firing at black mine workers.

It remains unclear what sparked the miners' fatal charge at police. Mnisi, the police ministry spokesman, claimed the miners shot at police as well, using one of the weapons they stole from officers Monday.

''We had a situation where people who were armed to the teeth, attack and killed others, even police officers,'' the spokesman said in a statement Thursday night. ''What should police do in such situations when clearly what they are face with are armed and hardcore criminals who murder police?''

President Jacob Zuma said he was ''shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence.''

''We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence,'' Zuma said in a statement.

Barnard O. Mokwena, an executive vice president at Lonmin, would say only: ''It's a police operation.'' In a statement earlier Thursday, Lonmin had said striking workers would be fired if they did not appear at their shifts Friday.

''The striking (workers) remain armed and away from work,'' the statement read. ''This is illegal.''

While the initial walkout and protest focused on wages, the ensuing violence has been fueled by the struggles between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. Disputes between the two unions escalated into violence earlier this year at another mine.

Mining drives the economy of South Africa, which remains one of the world's dominant producers of platinum, gold and chromium. Lonmin is the world's third largest platinum producer and its mine at Marikana produces 96 percent of all its platinum.

The violence has shaken the precious metals market, as platinum futures ended up $39, or 2.8 percent, at $1,435.20 an ounce in trading Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Lonmin stock plunged 6.76 percent Thursday on the London Stock Exchange. The company's stock value has dropped more than 12 percent since the start of the unrest.

Comments (3) Closed

Julius Joel
Aug 17, 2012 10:33am
It is difficult to say how people carrying sticks could have been of much risk to well armed police. I strongly believe there could have been a better way to avoid the loss of so many lives
Cyrus Howell
Aug 17, 2012 09:24am
Am sure they did not charge at the police line. Striking mine workers have been beaten and killed for over 100 years in many countries by police and army personnel. The owners want the mines open and governments at all levels are on the side of property rights.
j. fortuin
Aug 17, 2012 06:04pm
Good comment - however "carrying sticks" is all we have, only to have our voices heard that fall onto deaf ears. There is always a better way - I would believe, violence was the last thought on the mind of the Protesting Miners. Heavily armed Police were instructed as before by ill advised officials - without a thought to run the workers into a barbed wired fence and open fire -ashamed to say the South African way. May God show Mercy to the families.