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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Comments page of 3
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by: Bayou Crier from: Houston, Texas
August 17, 2012 6:20 PM
Only an an armed idiot would charge another man with a gun and expect that man not to defend himself.

by: Jakes
August 17, 2012 3:14 PM
WHY must a huge crowd of several thousand men, assemble with an assortment of deadly weapons on a hill singing war songs.
This was clearly an incitement to commit violence and storming the Police lines with deadly weapons, endangered the lives of those Policemen. The Government must introduce laws banning the carrying of such deadly weapons by demonstrators, which has become all to common and acceptable in South Africa and
endangers the lives of innocent people, including the Police, who
in this instance, lost two of their own members.


by: Cat M. from: Nevada
August 17, 2012 3:10 PM
34 dead is shameful and tragic, regardless of police "fear" - the point is their profession demands safety and caution for all.

by: workforlivn from: Loxley, AL
August 17, 2012 2:33 PM
A video I watched shows tear gas being fired into the protesters, the protesters running and the police firing into them with semi-auto fire. There may be other info not visible in the video but the police look cowardly in the video.

by: Ladarius from: USA
August 17, 2012 2:21 PM
Even the ill-informed should realize that when you display a weapon in front of the police, they shoot back.

by: Roger WIley from: England
August 17, 2012 2:21 PM
Actually 2 policemen were killed the previous day. And they recovered 6 pistols from the miners that were shot, including the pistol of one of the murdered cops. So how stupid are you Stewart making comments before you have all the facts.

by: Colin from: Scotland
August 17, 2012 2:01 PM
Self-defence? how stupid does Capt. Dennis Adraio think the worlds public are. Tell us Adraio, how many police were killed during this ‘self-defence’ exchange? Adraio said police did everything they could to avert a shootout, Tell us Adraio did your police try simply leaving the scene? In his faltering efforts to deny responsibility and evade any liability for the blood on his hands, Adraio has only succeeded in further polarising an already enraged and unjust standoff and bringing scorn and incredulity upon both himself and the South African Police. If the Lonmin Platinum Mine weren’t so greedy and indifferent towards the daily exploitation of their workers, but chose instead to share some of the millions they make off the sweat and tears of their miserably paid miners, then this pointless massacre by the South African Police and the senseless waste of life that’s resulted would never have happened.
In Response

by: Nortface4 from: US
August 17, 2012 2:22 PM
Two police were hacked to death by striking workers just days before. I don't think it's stretch to believe that these police were being attacked. From the pictures it's pretty clear that the workers were armed. Why were they carrying weapons if they had no intent of using them?

by: Doug from: Cleveland
August 17, 2012 2:00 PM
You can see in the video that a group of the miners we on the attack. They messed with the bull and got...
In Response

by: Mick from: Seattle
August 17, 2012 5:10 PM
As population outgrows job availability these events will be more common place. Everybody wants to feed their families, they will fight for there survival. This reminds me of the diamond industry.
Technology is absorbing jobs and making more profit for the corporations. Robotics, software, they could replace any person at this time. We now have cars that drive themselves to their destinations. We have robots that can build robots, and software that will soon make human intelligence obsolete. Right now blue collar jobs are declining the fastest, but nobody is entirely safe. I've heard that it follows Moore's Law; that as computers evolve, people will lose jobs to them.
Hey Stu!
In Response

by: Stu from: WA
August 17, 2012 2:49 PM
You would never say that to their families. You should be more respectful.
In Response

by: Gordon from: United Kingdom
August 17, 2012 2:22 PM
Tell me Doug from Cleveland if 78 of your friends were injured and 34 of them killed by state gunmen which direction would you run?

by: Phil Ewanicki from: U! S! A!
August 17, 2012 1:51 PM
The U.S.A. (Union of South Africa) police defend shooting 112 strikers, killing 34, was a legitimate exercise of the new Union of South Africa "Stand Your Ground" law, which is a duplicate of the National Rifle Association template [as is all Stand Your Ground legislation]. George Zimmerman describes the U.S.A. police volleys of gunfire as "colorful but perfectly legal."

by: Anonymous
August 17, 2012 1:31 PM
So how many police were killed by the "dangerous crowd"?
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 17, 2012 2:23 PM
There were two policemen killed
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