News / Africa

    South Africans Seek Answers After Deadly Mine Protest

    Women from a group of churchgoers  wail at the site, Sunday Aug. 19, 2012 at the Lonmin platinum mine, background, near Rustenburg, South Africa, during a memorial service for 34 dead striking miners who were shot and killed by police last Thursday.Women from a group of churchgoers wail at the site, Sunday Aug. 19, 2012 at the Lonmin platinum mine, background, near Rustenburg, South Africa, during a memorial service for 34 dead striking miners who were shot and killed by police last Thursday.
    x
    Women from a group of churchgoers  wail at the site, Sunday Aug. 19, 2012 at the Lonmin platinum mine, background, near Rustenburg, South Africa, during a memorial service for 34 dead striking miners who were shot and killed by police last Thursday.
    Women from a group of churchgoers wail at the site, Sunday Aug. 19, 2012 at the Lonmin platinum mine, background, near Rustenburg, South Africa, during a memorial service for 34 dead striking miners who were shot and killed by police last Thursday.
    Anita Powell
    WONDERKOP, South Africa — South Africa is still reeling after a shootout between police and striking miners left 34 people dead last Thursday. That episode at a platinum mine rocked world markets. But in South Africa, the incident could also signal a major social shift in a nation that is still coming out of the shadow of apartheid. 
     
    "Violence."  "War."  "Massacre."   
     
    Those are just some of the headlines in South African newspapers days after police and angry miners confronted each other at a platinum mine, leading to a deadly shootout.
     
    Thursday's incident at the Lonmin platinum mine has reverberated throughout Africa’s largest economy, and internationally as well.  
     
    After more than a week of violence there are now 42 dead workers, two dead policemen and a burning question: what does this mean for South Africa's biggest industry, and its people?
     
    Professor Adam Habib, deputy vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, says the event has prompted an “existential crisis” among South Africans nearly two decades after the end of apartheid.

    “I think this also provokes a crisis for who we are, the levels of inequality in our society, how is it that this brings to the fore so graphically how the third-biggest provider of platinum in the world, Lonmin, located in the JSE [Johannesburg Stock Exchange] and the London stock exchange, which pays its CEO and executives exorbitant amounts of money, and yet the very people who dig platinum out of the ground live in the most awful of conditions. The conditions, how women are treated, all of these things, suggest that this society is riven by inequality," he said. "How can you, after 18 years after the democratic transition, not address the basic elements of this kind of stuff?”  
     
    Unrest began last week when 3,000 workers walked out over a pay dispute. Over the next few days, eight workers and two policemen were killed in clashes. The shootout on Thursday killed 34 more.
     
    In South Africa, considered one of Africa’s most stable nations, the Sowetan newspaper warned in an editorial that the nation could "see a snowball effect of this massacre.”
     
    The Timeslive website said the scenes were “horrifyingly familiar”, a reference to apartheid-era standoffs between black protesters and police.
     
    Internationally, the price of the precious metal jumped; the company's share price dipped.
     
    Most of the workers at the Lonmin mine make about $500 a month. During Thursday’s incident, miners asked for a raise to $1,500 a month. 
     
    That amount is just enough to buy one ounce of platinum at today’s market price of about $1,470.
     
    Mining has been a mixed blessing for South Africa. It provided the riches that founded Johannesburg, also known as Egoli, the place of gold. The industry employs hundreds of thousands of people, most of them menial black workers. 
     
    South Africa remains an economically divided society. Wonderkop, the town next to the Lonmin mine, is desperately poor despite the riches beneath the ground. Most residents of Wonderkop live in dusty corrugated-metal shacks. Most roads are unpaved.  
     
    The biggest, nicest buildings are churches, where many residents gathered Sunday morning. 
     
    Like most residents, Daniel Modisenyane has links to the mine, he has siblings working there. The 54-year-old lay preacher says the event affected the entire community. “This is very devastating, this is very mind disturbing, this is a shock. according to my observation, what has transpired is really out of order. This is not the way people should treat, and it’s not the way that companies should treat their employees," he said. 
     
    Another churchgoer works at the mine, and asked to be identified only by his first name, Thabo. 
     
    Thabo says he was with his fellow miners during the confrontation and that four or five of his friends were shot. He says he earns less than $200 a month and that he thinks the request for about $1,500 was reasonable. 
     
    A friend who helped translate says Thabo would like to see Lonmin come back to the bargaining table.  "It's no good, the mine problem is no good. They want money. Management must sit down and speak to some of the people," he said. 
     
    Wonders Ntshaqa, who has worked at the mine for more than three decades, says he wants more answers from the government.  He blames both sides for the violence which has left him traumatized and unable to sleep.  "I don't know who is right, who is wrong, what is happening, who is starting [it], what is the right thing, what is the wrong thing. If I want something, to do a good something, I must be sitting down, I am looking for a solution, the solution is not a fight, the solution is not to kill the people," he said. 
     
    The government has ordered an investigation. 
     
    But until then, this mining community is seeking answers from a higher power.
     

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Knowledge
    August 20, 2012 11:49 PM
    Union membership pays the salaries of Union officials.
    Everyone knows right from wrong let us be very clear on that.
    However the Police were left with no choice given the circumstances - standing before an armed mass crowd, already responsible for the death of two colleagues and several workers left them with no choice. The Unions and the Government have long condoned armed mass demonstrations. Just look at the past.

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    August 20, 2012 12:41 PM
    The answer we are looking for should include if carrying of machetes and other weapons of assault has become part of labor negotiation. South Africans boast of being violent and they are in the majority uncivilized. That is not good for them. The workers' union leaders should be held accountable for what happened. The Union's lawyers too proved irresponsible not tutoring them on the behavior at demonstrations; for had they been unarmed, the police would not have had reason to shoot them even if they became violent. But carrying of arms and being violent with them was an act of war. Only a tree would have stood waiting for the killer approach with those weapons. To ask for upping of pay is good, modern and civilized, but the method/approach was barbaric thereby begetting barbaric response. All for the good of the country, sometimes to learn in a hard way. Condolences South Africa.

    by: Adam
    August 20, 2012 12:20 AM
    The question that should be asked is why the miners armed themselves with a deadly array of weapons and had to kill two Policemen along with several other workers. This aspect appears to have "forgotten" and not stated. Demonstrators in RSA should not be allowed to arm themselves in this way and Government have failed in this for a long time, when it has been "staring them in the face" through the Press. Perhaps the Police will do a cross reference check on firearm
    ownership in the area, which could be interesting

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora