JOHANNESBURG— Survivors of last year’s deadly shooting at a South African platinum mine marched to President Jacob Zuma’s office on Thursday, demanding government funding for their legal team in a commission set up to investigate the killings.
Hundreds of angry and uninvited visitors amassed near Zuma’s office Thursday to demand legal assistance in an ongoing investigation into the deadly shooting at the Lonmin mine in Marikana in August 2012.
Witnesses said police opened fire on unarmed striking miners, killing 34 of them, though it about 270 miners were the ones arrested and charged with murder.
A commission of inquiry was set up shortly after the shootings. The process has been marred with problems, however, and has proceeded in fits and starts.
First, the miners’ lawyers pulled out of the commission, saying they lacked funding to continue fighting the case. Their clients, the 270 miners, also refused to participate until their legal fees were paid.
A plea for the government to fund the lawyers was rejected. Efforts to get the courts to force the government to pay for the lawyers also failed. The miners have filed an appeal on that ruling.
On Thursday, the bulk of those miners and hundreds of their supporters took their complaints to the top by marching to Zuma’s office in Pretoria. Miners handed over their petition to a representative from the president's office and demanded a response by the end of Friday.
Bishop Joe Seoka, the organizer of the march, said the miners are in desperate need of Zuma’s assistance.
“We believe that him and the state organs have the capacity to assist with the plight of the workers. Where there is suffering people should lend their support to alleviate that pain that people are experiencing,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said the presidency was aware of the miners’ demands and would forward their request to the Department of Justice.
Rehad Desai, a spokesman for the Marikana Support Campaign, said helping the miners is the right thing to do.
“The Commission of Inquiry has a budget of 115 [million rands], why can’t two or three million of that money go to the injured and arrested? There is 270 of them facing life sentences, they are on murder charges," he said. "The outcome of this commission of inquiry is critically important for their liberty.”
Gqiha Yaso, a 33-year-old miner from South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape province, said he was there on that fateful day when police began firing into the crowd of miners, who had held the strike without approval from the dominant union at the mine.
“There was this cloud of smoke coming from the kopje [small hill]. I could only hear sound of machine guns. I saw people running. There was this young guy I had spoke to earlier, he was nowhere to be found. I got a call saying that he has been found in a mortuary on Sunday,” said Yaso.
Some of the marchers Thursday brought another message to Zuma, carrying banners of opposition political parties and crying, “Down With Zuma” and “End Zuma’s Rule.”
The Zuma government was harshly criticized for the shootings, which were said to be the worst instance of police brutality South Africa has seen since the end of apartheid.