South Africa in shock after massacre of 35 miners
Police minister defends officers who used automatic weapons to kill strikers at Lonmin mine
THE DEATHS of at least 35 mine workers, shot by police as they staged a protest in South Africa yesterday in scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of its history, have shocked the country – and caused share prices in mine owner Lonmin to tumble.
A strike at the Marikana platinum mine, near Rustenberg in the north of the country, had led to skirmishes over the past week in which 10 people, including two policemen, were killed. Lonmin claimed the strike was illegal.
Yesterday's appalling violence occurred after a turf war broke out between two rival unions. The leader of one, Joseph Mathunjwa, has accused Lonmin of colluding with the other to orchestrate the "massacre", reports The Guardian.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4 yesterday evening, Patrick Craven of the Congress of South African Trades Unions agreed it was possible the mine owners had deliberately turned the unions on each other, in a 'divide-and-rule' strategy.
Today, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reports that the minister of police, Nathi Mthwetha, has confirmed that at least 35 miners were killed in the shooting. He gave his condolences to their families.
Describing the violence as the worst in the country's post-Apartheid history, SABC speculates that workers at surrounding mines may be inspired to down tools in sympathy.
President Jacob Zuma condemned the killings but "made no reference to the handling of the situation by the police", says the Guardian. He said: "We are 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."
South African daily the Mail & Guardian reports that it is "still unclear who fired the first shots", though SABC says the strikers were armed with "knobkerries, pangas [machetes] and other weapons", suggesting that most shots were fired by the police.
Mthwetha claimed that there was a group armed with guns among the miners. He said: "The workers were erecting barbed wire, there was a militant group with guns, the police used water cannons, and rubber bullets, but people were firing guns."
South Africa's Independent Online says the strikers have decided to retreat to Rustenberg until the situation is "totally calm". It reveals that the miners earn 4,000 rand a month – about £300 – and were pushing for a rise to as much as 12,500 (£965).
Back in the UK, The Daily Telegraph reports that Lonmin, a FTSE 250 company with its registered office in London, has seen its shares fall 8.6 per cent this morning. The latest slump is part of an overall 22 per cent fall in the share price since the strike began.