[Nigeria Report] South Africa police open fire at striking miners

South Africa Map (Photo: Google Image)

At least seven people were shot dead after South African police opened fire on thousands of miners striking over pay, according to reports from The Nation Newspaper.

The Nation reported that a Reuter’s cameraman saw at least seven bodies on the ground at the scene, while the country’s Sapa news agency has said “at least” 18 people have been killed.

Video footage shows a group of strikers moving towards the police. At the point where the footage freezes, a volley of gunshots lasting for some 10 seconds rings out before shouts of “ceasefire” halt the shooting.

When the footage resumes, a number of motionless bodies can be seen where the strikers were.

Journalist Taurai Maduna, who saw what happened, told Sky News: “Shortly before 4pm, the police grouped, they fired tear gas and it was just chaos. “I could hear gunfire, I don’t know if it was live ammunition and the next thing it was police shouting “ceasefire” and there were just bodies all over.

“I couldn’t see whether people were dead, it was just hectic.” The incident happened around 40 miles North West of Johannesburg at the Marikana platinum mine owned by Lonmin – the world’s third largest platinum producer.

Police had apparently been laying out barricades of barbed wire when they were outflanked by some of an estimated 3,000 miners.

The miners had been gathered on a rocky outcrop near the mine, 60 miles (100km) northwest of Johannesburg.

Mr Maduna said it had been “evident” that there could be trouble before the shootings.

He said: “The protesters had gathered at the hill and everyone had something to defend themselves with and when we told them the police were planning to disperse them, they said ‘bring them on, we are ready for them’.

“The police said ‘by the end of the day we are going to deal with them. Don’t ask us how, but we’re going to do it’.”

Sky News Africa correspondent Alex Crawford said: “It’s a really shocking turn of events.”

She explained that the strike started on Thursday last week and tensions have since “built up and built up”, but it was not yet clear which side sparked the latest killings.

She said: “At least three of the miners were seen holding pistols so it is not clear who fired first.

Three people died during a similar strike in January and 10 people – including police – had been killed during the latest dispute in recent days.

Before the latest shooting police said they had been left with no option but to disperse the strikers by force after talks with leaders of the radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) broke down.

“Today is unfortunately D-day,” spokesman Dennis Adriao said. And before the police advance, Joseph Mathunjwa, president of AMCU, which has been on a big recruitment push in South Africa’s platinum mines, warned there would be bloodshed if police moved in.

“We’re going nowhere,” he shouted through a loudhailer, to cheers from the crowd. “If need be, we’re prepared to die here.”

Lonmin had said striking workers would be sacked if they did not turn up for their shifts on Friday.

“The striking (workers) remain armed and away from work,” the statement read. “This is illegal.”

The unrest at the Lonmin mine began on August 10, as some 3,000 workers walked off the job over pay. Those who tried to go to work on Saturday were attacked, management and the National Union of Mineworkers said.

On Sunday, the protest became deadly as a crowd killed two security guards by setting their car ablaze, authorities said.

By Monday, angry mobs had killed two other workers and overpowered police, killing two officers. Officers opened fire that day, killing three others.

Operations appeared to come to a standstill on Tuesday as workers stayed away from the mines, where 96 percent of all Lonmin’s platinum production comes from.

While the walkout appeared to be about wages, the ensuing violence has been fuelled by the struggles between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, reports said.

Disputes between the two unions escalated into violence earlier this year at another mine.

Both unions have blamed each other for the strife.

Uwalaka Temple U.B Intern Reporter news@theasian.asia

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