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August 18, 2012

South African Miners Still Determined Following Shootout

by Emilie Iob

RUSTENBURG, South Africa — Two days after the shootout at a mine in South Africa where 34 striking miners died, the atmosphere is still very heavy on the site, as the miners remain undeterred in their strike for a better salary.  In addition to the 34 miners killed, two policemen and two mine security officers were among 10 people killed in the days leading up to Thursday's shootings.

They face the police force, unscarred and undeterred. Two days after the worst shootout of the post-apartheid era, the women of the miners want to show that their determination is intact. In front of the Lonmin mine, 100 kilometers east of Pretoria, they repeat their same demand : a threefold pay raise for their husbands, from their current $490 per month. 

But everywhere, bewilderment prevails, as one of the women, Princess Maxuthu, said, "We are angry. I have a big problem with the government. We didn't expect that thing with the police. The police is doing a bad thing. [They] killed our families, our friends."

Earlier in the day, some women went to the mine's hospital, a few hundred meters away.  In the outside parking lot, families can come and learn the fate of their relatives: in jail, injured, or dead. 

The police presence is reduced from Friday.  Every day the miners gather on an open space behind the informal settlement where they live, a stone's throw from the Lonmin mine and from the little hill where the shootout happened. On Saturday, South African politician Julius Malema, a former official of the ruling ANC (African National Congress) party, famous for his criticism of the historic party, is coming to talk to them. 

The welcome is warm. Malema, the former ANC Youth League leader who recently got fired from the party, is going to say what the 2 000 striking miners want to hear.  "There is something with [South African] president [Jacob] Zuma. He must step down. He never cared about you, no money, no shoes. President Zuma presided over the massacre of our people. President Zuma's government has murdered our people," he said. 

And it seems the politician has convinced his audience, as Bisusua, one of the people in the crowd explained. "I think Malema is Number One, he is the one supporting us. Zuma, he didn't come," he said. 

The shooting tragedy is another strong blow to the reputation of Nelson Mandela's famous party, already weakened by internal divisions.

At the Lonmin mine itself, the situation is back to quiet. At dusk, the police went to take out the barbed wire around the hill where the drama happened.

South Africa police officials say their officers fired at the miners on Thursday in self defense. 

​​Some information for this report was provided by AFP.