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South African president announces inquiry over 34 miners shot dead

  Sunday 19th August 2012

Jacob Zuma, the South African president, has announced a full inquiry about shootings at a mine in the north-east of the country.

There were 34 people killed and 78 injured in the confrontation between police officers and mineworkers protesting for a pay rise.

Mr Zuma, who was visiting Mozambique, went to the scene and, visibly distraught, said he would make sure that such a loss of lives would not happen again. After meeting police and injured miners, he added: “I am convinced that the Commission of Inquiry will uncover the truth and facts will emerge.”

After visiting the scene of the shootings, the South African president said: “I have instructed law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to book. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of all who have lost their lives since the beginning of this violent action.”

The violence outbreak happened at Marikana platinum mine, owned by Lonmin, a London-based company.

The strike at the mine began a week ago and by Thursday had already claimed the lives of ten people.

The miners, who are currently earning between 4,000 and 5,000 rand ($484-$605), wanted their salary increased to 12,500 rand ($1,512).

However, the circumstances and responsibilities appear unclear and that is why Mr Zuma ordered an investigation. Reports from eyewitnesses say that the shooting happened after a large group of demonstrators ran towards a line of policemen.

Police, armed with automatic rifles and pistols, fired dozens of shots claiming self-defense as motivation.

Armed with machetes, sticks and wooden cudgels, miners occupied an outcropping of rock near the mine, chanting their readiness to die. A similar number of policemen were deployed to surround the hilltop. A former policeman admitted to Reuters that it was in the culture of the force, “shoot to kill” without worrying about what happened after that.

South African commentators started a comparison between this tragedy and Sharpeville – when the police fired at a crowd in 1960 – leading to the beginning of the armed struggle against the white minority.

Other elements like the competition between two rival trade unions that have blamed each other for the violence during the strike, complicate the inquiry.

Meanwhile, Lonmin has stopped its platinum operations. South Africa is the largest platinum producer and Lonmin mines produce 12% of the world’s supply there. Company shares have plummeted since the incident took place.

Annalisa Ratti

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