South African president Jacob Zuma announced this weekend that national mourning would begin for the 34 mine workers who were killed during a police shooting on Thursday. A further 78 people were injured in Thursday’s confrontation and another 250 were arrested. The mourning period will last from Monday until this coming Sunday and flags will fly at half mast in remembrance of the loss of life, the BBC reports.
President Zuma said in a statement regarding the tragedy, “We must reflect on the sanctity of human life and the right to life.”
The deaths of the mine workers at the mercy of police fire has been deeply criticized in the days following the upset, suggesting that the impoverished population of the area is not respected by government authorities. Last week’s violence started when mine workers went on strike at a Lonmin platinum mine on August 10 demanding higher wages. Unrest and tensions soon rose and 10 people were killed in mysterious incidents between Friday and Wednesday, including two police officers and multiple mine workers.
This past Thursday, a full-on confrontation between mine strikers and police resulted in tragedy on the day when Lonmin had originally demanded workers return to the job. On Monday, Lonmin officials once again demanded that workers return to their jobs or face getting fired. In a statement published by the Guardian, Lonmin officials said, “Those illegal strikers who did not return to work this morning will not be dismissed and have been allowed an extra day in light of the tragic events of last week.”
Many workers have told local reporters they have nothing left to lose in the wake of the hefty violence that has already marked August. One man told reporters, “It’s better to die than to work for that [expletive] … I am not going to stop striking. We are going to protest until we get what we want. They have said nothing to us. Police can try and kill us but we won’t move.”
President Zuma claims that a new investigation into the events of last week will begin in earnest as Lonmin’s shares rose by 5.3%. Before the incident, the company had been struggling with falling shares. The workers started the strike in an attempt to increase wages. They currently make only about $300 a month and want to raise that to around $1,000. Comparatively, the Guardian notes, the current CEO makes nearly $2 million a year.
The violence surrounding the world’s third-largest platinum mine has sparked critiques comparing the incidents to apartheid-era violence. Many of those arrested in last week’s violence face charges such as murder, attempted murder and theft. Union representatives have said they do not appreciate the tone Lonmin officials have taken with the workers. It is clear that violence and unrest will continue to rock the platinum mine in the coming weeks and that the workers’ strike has not ended.
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