Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Miners vow fight to death in wake of police shootings

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MARIKANA, South Africa -- Frantic wives searched for missing loved ones, President Jacob Zuma rushed home from a regional summit and some miners vowed a fight to the death Friday as police announced a shocking casualty toll from the previous day's shooting by officers of striking miners: 34 dead and 78 wounded.

Wives of miners at the Lonmin platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg took the place of dead and wounded husbands on Friday in staging a protest. But this time, instead of asking for higher wages as the miners had done, the women demanded to know why police had opened fire Thursday with automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns on the strikers, many of whom had been armed with spears, machetes and clubs, as they rushed towards the officers.

Police said at a news conference it was in self-defence, noting strikers even possessed a pistol taken from a police officer they had beaten to death on Monday. But video footage indicates the miners may have simply been trying to flee tear gas police had fired at them moments earlier.

As the miners rushed away from a hill they had occupied and was being tear-gassed, police opened fire, including with automatic rifles. Police were perhaps jumpy, knowing the strikers were armed and two officers had already died earlier in the week.

"Police stop shooting our husbands and sons," read a banner carried by the women on Friday. They kneeled before shotgun-toting police and sang a protest song, saying "What have we done?" in the Xhosa language.

National police Chief Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega told a packed news conference Thursday was a dark day for South Africa and it was no time for pointing fingers, even as people compared the shootings to apartheid-era state violence.

Political parties and labour unions demanded an investigation.

Zuma returned home from a summit in Mozambique and announced an official inquiry into the killings, which he called shocking and tragic.

The president headed directly to the mine, 70 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, where his office said he would visit injured miners in the hospital.

At least 10 other people were killed during the week-old strike, including the two police officers battered to death by strikers and two mine security guards burned alive when strikers set their vehicle ablaze.

Makhosi Mbongane, a 32-year-old winch operator, said mine managers should have come to the striking workers rather than send police. Strikers were demanding monthly salary raises from $625 to $1,563. Mbongane vowed he was not going back to work and would not allow anyone else to do so either.

"They can beat us, kill us and kick and trample on us with their feet, do whatever they want to do, we aren't going to go back to work," he told The Associated Press.

"If they employ other people, they won't be able to work either. We will stay here and kill them."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 18, 2012 A26

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