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

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora