SA police kill 30 in public order shooting

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Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa has confirmed more than 30 people were killed in a shooting between police and miners at Marikana, Rustenburg, in South Africa’s North West Province yesterday afternoon.

“Police did everything they could … but people [the miners] said they were not leaving and are prepared to fight,” he said in an interview with Talk Radio 702 on Friday morning. The minister said that “many” more were injured, the SA Press Association added.

No violence was reported there overnight after the shooting erupted when police sought to disperse armed, striking workers who had gathered on a hill in the area that had already seen 10 deaths in violent protests the past week.

It is still unclear who fired the first shots. “The extremely tense week-long stand-off between police and striking workers at the mine in North West ended in just over two minutes of bloodshed when the police opened fire with semi-automatic assault rifles and pistols just before 3pm yesterday,” The Times newspaper reports.

It appears the shooting started shortly after police advanced on a hill occupied by about 3000 miners to disarm the strikers. The workers have been on an illegal strike since Friday, demanding that their salaries be increased from R4000 to R12500 a month. After negotiations between their union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union deadlocked, the police gave the gathering 10 minutes to disperse. “The crowd instead formed a line and, crouching, struck their pangas and sharpened iron rods together to create a war beat. The line slowly advanced towards the police, crossing the barrier line the police had set up. The police opened fire when the strikers attacked an armoured Nyala [personnel carrier].
“They first used stun grenades and rubber bullets – but when a striker was seen pulling out a shotgun and firing at the police, the police switched to live ammunition. After the hail of bullets – which was caught by television camera crews – only dust and gunsmoke hung in the air,” The Times says. “Several bodies lay on the ground, some piled on top of others. Some of the bodies lay face down with gaping head wounds; others were bleeding from the stomach. One man had half his head blown away.”

The initial outbreak of violence has been blamed on animosity between the ruling party-aligned National Union of Mineworkers and the new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union, blamed mine-owner Lonmin’s management for its “reluctance” to meet the workers and hear their demands. “The management committed that they would negotiate with the workers on condition that they return to work, but they appeared to back-track yesterday.” In a statement last night, Lonmin chairman Roger Phillimore said: “We are treating the developments around police operations this afternoon with the utmost seriousness. It goes without saying that we deeply regret the further loss of life in what is clearly a public order rather than labour relations-associated matter.”

President Jacob Zuma expressed his sadness at the ”tragic loss of lives of so many people”. He said: ”We call upon the labour movement and business to work with the government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further. 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.”