JOHANNESBURG — More than two weeks after a fatal shooting outside a troubled South African platinum mine, officials and residents gathered Saturday to bury some of the 34 miners shot dead by police. But these funerals don't bring closure to the saga, which has reached the highest levels in South Africa.
Dozens of bodies were laid to rest Saturday across South Africa, weeks after police shot 34 striking miners dead earlier this month at the Lonmin platinum mine.
Harold Maloka, a spokesman for the government's inter-ministerial committee into the killings, said most of the dead were buried Saturday. They were shot just outside the mine, which is some 100 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg.
Maloka said most of the funerals took place in the Eastern Cape Province where most of the miners came from.
Maloka described the scenes as "somber." But he said the funerals are not the end.
"Yes, definitely government will also consider it to be an unfinished issue, but you must remember that President [Jacob] Zuma has appointed a judicial commission of inquiry," said Maloka. "That judicial commission of inquiry has been given four months to investigate exactly what has happened and the commission of inquiry will then be able to unravel and identified what happened exactly and be able to come up with recommendations that will be considered by the president."
Maloka also said the government is committed to taking care of the grieving relatives.
"On the inter-ministerial committee side, the work is not done, Maloka added. "Even after people have been buried, some of those people have been breadwinners in their own family. The government committee is committed that all those families be assisted as the government as we have a program of social grants that all families should, those who qualify, must be able to get social assistance from government, which includes social grants, food parcels and so on to make sure they are able go on with their lives even in the absence of their loved one."
The shootout happened after days of unrest just outside the mine. Union negotiations had failed so the miners held a wildcat strike seeking a threefold pay raise to about $1,500 a month.
South African Police have said they were shot at first and had no choice but to respond in self-defense.
No police have been charged, but the government has ordered an investigation into the August 16 shootings.
Earlier this week, a court charged 270 detained miners with murder over the deaths of their 34 colleagues under a little-used "common purpose" law. That decision drew a maelstrom of criticism, and prompted Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to formally demand an explanation from prosecutors.
The mineworkers' lawyers also sent an open letter to South African President Jacob Zuma demanding the workers' release by Sunday.
The shooting of the 34 miners has called into question the South African government's management of the mining industry and unions' role in what happened. The shooting has been described by South Africans as the deadliest confrontation between police and civilians since apartheid. And the entire saga has prompted a rise in platinum prices, a dip in Lonmin share prices and concerns among investors.