News / Africa

South African President Orders Probe Into Mine Shootings

Police look on as women carry placards in protest against the killing of miners by the South African police on Thursday, outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg, August 17, 2012.
Police look on as women carry placards in protest against the killing of miners by the South African police on Thursday, outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg, August 17, 2012.
Anita Powell
JOHANNESBURG — South African President Jacob Zuma has ordered an official inquiry into the police killing of 34 striking miners, the deadliest security operation in the country since the end of apartheid.

Zuma said he was "shocked and dismayed" at what he called "senseless violence."  

The president cut short a visit Friday to a regional summit in Mozambique and traveled to the mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Zuma stopped short of saying who was responsible for the killings and urged unions to work with the government to address the situation.

South African police say 34 people were killed in a shootout between police and angry miners at a troubled platinum mine. But police, unions and the presidency have stopped short of saying who is at fault.

South Africa’s police commissioner on Friday visited the scene of a deadly shootout between police and strikers at the Lonmin platinum mine in the nation’s northwest.

A confrontration Thursday between striking miners and police turned into a gunbattle.

Police spokesman Capt. Dennis Adraio said Friday that in addition to the deaths, 78 people were wounded. Police have arrested 259 people.

South Africa's Mining Industry

  • Number of workers: 498,141
  • Industry deaths: 128
  • Key commodities mined: Diamonds, gold, platinum, palladium
  • Real mining GDP: $12.06 billion
  • Mineral exports: $36.25 billion

Source: Chamber of Mines of South Africa Figures for 2010
Adraio said police did everything they could to avert a shootout - and have video to prove it.

“The South African service national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega showed footage, which highlighted that police have exhausted all possible methods of crowd management using minimum force before having to resort to self-defense," said Adraio. "Methods of minimum force included the use of water cannons, tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The footage clearly shows how armed groups stormed through the police first line of defense, leaving the police with no other option but to use live ammunition as a last resort to protect themselves and conserve stability.”

South African President Jacob Zuma said in a statement that he was “shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence.”

But he stopped short of saying who was responsible, and called on unions to work with the government to address the situation and calm tensions.

Angry miners have protested at the mine for a week, after 3,000 workers walked out over a pay dispute. Some strikers have held signs demanding that monthly wages be tripled to about $1,500.

National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said Friday that part of the tension was sparked by workers’ decision to strike without union support.

“It can’t be right to have bargaining outside bargaining process because the bargaining processes had been concluded," said Seshoka. "So it would have have made more sense if they did not demand, but rather waited for the bargaining season to begin and then said to their leadership this is what we want now."

African Percent of World Production

  • Platinum Metals         54
  • Phosphate                 27
  • Gold                           20
  • Chromium                  40
  • Diamonds                  78

Source: UN
But Jeff Mphahlele, leader of the rival of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, said the workers’ demands were fair and that police should not have fired.

Adraio, the police spokesman, said authorities are investigating.

“I think it’s too early stages to start blaming specific groupings," he said. "I think the investigations are presently underway and we need to wait for the final investigations to be complete, for the process to take place."

Strikes are common in South Africa, which has a strong confederation of unions and a large pool of menial workers.  

The Lonmin mine is about 100 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg and is the source of the majority of the world’s platinum. Platinum prices spiked Thursday to close at a price of $1,435 for an ounce. Lonmin shares, however, dropped in London and Johannesburg.

The company says the dispute has cost six days’ worth of production, and the mine will not make its annual output goal.

About 3,000 people have walked off the job at the mine in the past week due to a pay dispute. Lonmin is the world's third-largest platinum producer.

<p><span class="article11"><i><span style="font-size: 7pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: &quot;Times New Roman&quot;,&quot;&quot;;">Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.</span></i></span></p>

  • An unidentified woman chants as she protests against the police opening fire and killing striking mine workers a day earlier at the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, August 17, 2012.
  • Members of a South African police crime unit investigate the scene of the shooting of miners at the Lonmin mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, August 17, 2012.
  • An unidentified woman cries as she protests against the police opening fire and killing striking mine workers a day earlier at the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, August 17, 2012.
  • A policeman fires at protesting miners outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, August 16, 2012.
  • Policemen fire at striking miners outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, August 16, 2012.
  • A miner runs as police shoot outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, August 16, 2012.
  • Policemen in teargas and dust open fire on striking miners at the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, August 16, 2012.
  • Police open fire on striking miners at the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, August 16, 2012.
  • A paramedic (front L) receives help from a policewomen as he tends to the injured after protesting miners were shot outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, August 16, 2012.

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 3
by: Believe Me
August 18, 2012 11:45 AM
Unless you have been present at a gathering of several thousand
demonstrators armed, marching and singing, Guyfrank and others, from the safety of your homes many miles away, you don't have a foggy clue of the grave and imminent danger that confronted those Policemen, two of which were killed by the demonstrators.
In Response

by: Jensen from: Tennessee
August 18, 2012 1:57 PM
While the earlier event involving the two policemen cannot be totally ignore, the fact is that event was not related to this event.

If the police are so poorly trained and their leadership so undisciplined that when confront by a group of protesters, that possessed no weapon greater than a stick in hand, if even that, that they felt compelled, using live ammunition from high powered assault rifles, to open fire indiscriminately into the group of protesters, then that is an idictment of both the police and the government.

Most civilized societies would call this mass murder. It would be elevated to Crimes Against Humanity if it is repeated.

by: SAFarmer from: South Africa
August 18, 2012 7:14 AM
I hope that our President now realize why non-ANC citizens think that it is inappropriate to sing the old struggle song "mshini wam" (bring me my machine gun)

by: david lulasa from: tambua,hamisi,vihiga,keny
August 18, 2012 5:42 AM
the south african police and the counterfeit trade unions must dissapear from the mines..the south african government should send army peace keeping force at that mine.

by: Maurizio from: Italy
August 18, 2012 4:31 AM
If the workers are decently paid for their work, no demonstration. Police should protect the country and its citizens, but as usual everywhere in the world what they protect first is the profit of private companies. Even by killing their own people like cattle. Police should force companies to pay fair wages to their workers instead of killing workers

by: John C Williams from: Mililani, HI
August 18, 2012 1:47 AM
For those who think the police acted with malice, I say "Remember Rwanda!

by: AlaskaHound from: Gakona Alaska
August 18, 2012 1:02 AM
The progressive way, will continue to hide the truth, with the MSM obviously included.
Unfortunately, the progressive journalists who've been hanging with the African miners are the source of their demise.
When progressive journalists incite "fairness", burn the rich and where's mine attitudes with a foreign work group, bad things happen.
The miners thought the journalists were there to help and promote fair working conditions, and we know how that worked out.
Beware the words, actions and deeds of the progressive liberal mind.
There are honest liberals with integrity, but you won't find any (or very few) in the MSM's ranks.
God help us and those that they've influenced to their own deaths.

by: Chaostheory6682 from: Us
August 18, 2012 12:51 AM
Tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. These people thought they were being attacked, and they were; they reacted as such. The police force in question, created the very situation that they claim they need to defend against.
In Response

by: Plain Mirror from: Abidjan
August 19, 2012 6:17 AM
You are very far from realities of governance and modus operandi of the security forces. If you had been in police force and meet the scanario these policemen met with these miners, you must be forced to fire them. We are in a civilized world where people should learn to comport themselves orderly during protests than invoking violence and rage. Blame the miners first. Yes! blame the death! However, it is quite a pity.

by: Gringo Bush Pilot from: Thailand
August 18, 2012 12:47 AM
It might prove instructive to research the cause of the striker's discontent and the corporate entity obscured behind the scene.Obviously this tragedy did not happen in a vacuum. A storm of this magnitude did not happen overnight.
A person or persons unknown knew in advance should have anticipated the dangers of labor unrest, and resolved the issue before it devolved into this terrible tragedy.
The public deserves the whole story - the

by: Romildo Caldas from: Brazil
August 17, 2012 7:07 PM
Living without Reason, is the Main Cause of Death and Tragedy.

by: Guyfranck Kisangani from: Towson, Md
August 17, 2012 6:22 PM
I watched this action on BBC news, this is a massacre and an intentional killing of humans. I don't care whether or not these people were armed, they were underpaid and had right to protest against their wages. Those police officers are supposed to be arrested and prosecuted to the extend of the law.
In Response

by: Plain Mirror from: Abidjan
August 19, 2012 6:27 AM
Absolutely wrong! What sort of news caption, story or history would it look like for the armed policemen to be dis-armed by those miners who were raising dusts and dashing heavily towards the police men like a group of bulls being chased behind by lions? May be they were coming to dis-arm the police and use their guns to begin a rebellion against the governernment... eh? Simply blame both sides for the tragedy. The government for not paying the miners well and the miners for not being disciplined in conducting the pledge for their rights and demands. We are in a civilised world mind you and people should learn to do things orderly and civilised too.
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