South Africa: Nation Recalls Its ‘Darkest Day’
South Africa marks the police killings a year ago of 34 miners which traumatized the country with its unpleasant echoes of apartheid repression. Lonmim miners can take the day off – without pay.
Workers at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana who want to take part in memorial services for the dozens who were killed in the violence last year will be able to do so, but they will forfeit a day’s pay.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said it had agreed to the deal with Lonmin, because the company had initially refused to let workers take the day off. A Lonmin spokeswoman confirmed that employees had agreed to the “no work, no pay” principle.
Police shot dead 34 platinum miners who were taking part in a wildcat strike on August 16, 2013, along with thousands of other workers at the Marikana mine in North-West province. 78 people were injured.
In the days prior to the slaughter, 10 people were killed in inter union violence, including two police officers, two security guards and union officials.
The police, who opened fire on August 16 after striking miners had refused to disperse, have denied wrongdoing and no officers have been charged for their role in the deadly assault.
Workers will gather in the hills on Friday where the killings took place to remember their deceased colleagues.
Prayer and reflection
Eric Nontshakazi, a Lonmin miner, told Deutsche Welle he clearly recalls what happened that day. “Some workers lifted their hands up in surrender, but they were shot in that position. It was clear they wanted to kill all of us,” he said speaking in the Xhosa language.
The scenes of bloodshed sent a chill down the spine of many South Africans, reminding them of the worst excesses of the apartheid regime that was peacefully ousted from power in 1994.
Earlier in the week, President Jacob Zuma urged South Africans to mark the anniversary on August 16 as a day of prayer and reflection.
Zuma set up a commission of inquiry after the killings. However, more than six months after it was meant to complete its work, hearings continue and it remains unclear when the commission will release its findings.
In the year since the bloodbath, inter union rivalry has continued to spill over into violence. At least eight prominent members from the AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have been murdered, the latest victim being a local NUM leader who was gunned down in front of her house on Monday.
Workers had flocked to join the AMCU, abandoning the once-dominant NUM because it was perceived to protect the interests of the mine management rather than those of the workers.
AMCU now represents 70 percent of Lonim’s 27,000 employees, NUM is now left with just 20 percent.
Two days before Friday’s anniversary, Lonmin signed a recognition accord with AMCU in a move that heads off a potential strike over the union’s status. Pay talks, however, are expected to be extremely tough.
Mine stoppages in 2012 cost the South African economy 15.3 billion rand ($ 1.5 billion, 1.2 billion euros).
If Lonmin can get through this financial year without strikes, it expects to produce more than 700,000 ounces of platinum, around 15 percent of South African output.
In the aftermath of the police killings, Lonmin announced pay rises of between 11 and 22 percent.
“Unity of purpose”
Political analyst Daryl Glaser told DW only unity of purpose could bring stability to South Africa’s mining sector. “Labor and capital are going to have to cooperate, the government is going to have to play a role, as well as the ruling party and the major trade union federation,” he said.
Lizzy Mahumane’s brother, Tsietsi Munene, was one of the two police officers killed in the violence. “It really hurts us as a family. They are always talking about 34 miners that were killed at Marikana. Did my brother deserve to die?” she asked.
Thuso Khumalo, a DW correspondent in Johannesburg, said people were regarding the Marikana massacre as “the darkest spot in the history of democratic South Africa.”