34 Dead After Police Fire At Miners in South Africa

An already volatile situation escalated on Thursday when police on guard at a platinum mine in South Africa opened fire on the mass of mining protesters. Last Friday mine workers went on strike, and the situation quickly surged from one of workers rights to inter-union fighting and tensions between police and workers.

A clash between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) have pitted workers against each other and raised global awareness of the dire working and living conditions of many mineworkers in the region, who often live in poverty. The strike on Friday was mounted in an attempt to raise the monthly salary of an average miner from around $500 to $1,500.

The Telegraph notes that on Thursday, armed officers in armored vehicles were attempting to lay out barbed wire barricades in areas surrounding the Lonmin platinum mine, which had to stop production in the face of the violence. Some estimates claim that around 3,000 miners gathered in continuation of the week-long protest in the same area as the armored officers. Many of the protesters were chanting war songs.

Many reports note that police officers told the miners to let go of their weapons and to make their way home. USA Today reports that some miners did eventually give up their weapons, while others continued to chant and march towards the township. Police initially responded with a water cannon, then moved on to tear gas in an attempt to break up the crowd of frustrated workers.

The situation became a tragedy when a group of protesters reportedly rushed at a line of officers who fired their automatic weapons at the group, killing at least 34, and wounding an additional 78. CNN reports that a storm of gunfire lasted around three minutes before an officer shouted cease fire.

In the wake of the mounting violence, death, and tension between workers, unions and police forces, the owners of the Lonmin platinum mine had announced that workers were to return to the job on Friday or get fired. That announcement came just hours before the tragic increase in violence that same afternoon as police opened fire. Now the owners of the mine, the third largest producer of platinum in the world, may have to reassess their stance on the strike.

The bloodshed surrounding the mine had already been impressive in the week leading up to the round of shootings. 10 people were reported dead from violence between Friday and Wednesday, including eight mine workers and two police officers. Earlier this year another three people were killed during a strike at another South African platinum mine.

CNN notes that both the NUM or the AMCU, the two unions reported to be in a rivalry, have denied any involvement in the newest wave of violence. Previous reports had posited that the AMCU was trying to force workers under its wing through threats and violence.

At this moment, the situation remains highly volatile and uncertain. Many workers in the mine area have blamed police for firing unnecessarily at the crowd. Wives of some of the fallen miners gathered near the scene of the incident on Friday singing anti-police chants, the BBC reports. President Jacob Zuma condemned Thursday’s incident saying, “We have to uncover the truth about what happened here. I have decided to institute a commission of inquiry. It will enable us to get to the real cause of the incident and derive the necessary lessons.”

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Photo Credit: Rob Lavinsky


anita TUCK5 years ago

As I was saying just now... everybody, including the Unions ( who basically seem not to give a toss for the workers anyway and are all out for their own gain and spend a lot of their time competing with their opposition) jumped on the bandwagon and the whole sad scenario turned into a BIG MESS.
Hopefully management will make a few, probably necessary financial adjustments, and improve their lot. Generally I do not believe they are just 'Greedy Capitalists'...

From the Government perspective, our country is trying hard to improve the lives of its people and hopefully our Constitution will eventually cater for minimum payments on mines... ok, for people like you and me, they are taking far too long, but that is the African way. Hopefully, too, this will serve as a 'wake-up' call to a lot of people, and from many angles. Good luck to them all.

anita TUCK5 years ago

I also live in South Africa and from what we saw on TV about the clashes at the Lonmin Mine, in this particular scenario it was a case of 'Six of one and half a dozen of the other'. I would like to suggest that the well-meaning but ignorant members of the world community get their facts straight by not paying attention to what amounts to a load of garbage from so-called experts who do not even live in South Africa.
Trade Unions are a necessary part of society, but some of them get somewhat carried away sometimes and here we have a winding-up an already highly-strung mass of temperamentally-unpredictable, weapon-waving strikers to dangerous emotional levels. The unions themselves clash with one another at times, and here we had both problems. From what I saw, and heard, the initial shots defininitely came from their (the mob's) side, and when the police then retaliated with real bullets and not rubber ones, they (the police) were actually retreating all the while. The mob out-numbered the police many times over and then to have someone shooting at you from that scary mass would have got me shooting real bullets too!

Our police are no angels by any means, but this time around I really felt for them.

And don't turn this sad state of affairs into an attack on the 'Greedy capitalists'. In this case it would appear that originally it was the more highly-qualified miners who wanted raises, i.e. the detonators who worked on the rock-faces, but everybody else, including the Un

.5 years ago

Every single one of those black cops deserves to be hung. It's unbelievable that they are doing the bidding of the greedy rich who just a few years ago were killing them.

stacey G.
stacey Goncalves5 years ago

Armed with Machettes ready to hack up anyone who stands in their way, this is a way of life for not only mine workers but any protesting native. terror and distruction follow in their wake

Alejandra Contreras

As long as workers are enslaved by the company and the local government compicity, these horrible violence wont end. They are taking advantage of a country with high unemploynment rate, taking the South African resources to... oh yes, as usual, to powerful rich overseas companies. How easy it is to discuss whether the police acted rightly or not, when we should be involved in a human rights cause.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/10-people-killed-at-south-african-platinum-mine.html#ixzz24Iv34clT

Helen E.
Helen Eldridge5 years ago

Isn't it amazing how the rest of the world tells people that have lived here all their lives, that they "are talking rubbish". These miners are not the "helpless, deprived, hungry, harmless and innocent workers" that you seem to believe. They were armed to the teeth, they ignored all calls to avoid violence, they responded only to the unions who were egging them on at every turn. Many of the miners there were probably unaware of the basis of their "demands", and most of them, if you got them on their own, would probably admit they are glad to have a job which is, by anyone's standards, reasonably paid (considering what their qualifications are, and the extra benefits such as housing etc - which they always fail to mention). Don't gi:ve me this crap of "appartheid". This has nothing to do with it. This is unions and politicians using the mob mentality for their own purposes. I for one, will be mourning the policement and the security guards who were shot dead by those same "innocent miners" the previous day. These men were doing their job, have families to support, and were more than likely shit-scared. THEY are the victims. The Union officials and the politicians owe the families of these police and security guards compensation. As for the miners: if you don't like the heat, stay out of the kitchen...

Alejandra Contreras

violence is not a solution. workers' rights must be respected in the first place.

Richard T.
Richard T5 years ago

Thank you for this sad article!

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Annatjie Kruger
Annatjie Kruger5 years ago

I dare each and every person who condemn the Policemen (about 300) for defending them against 3000 (some say 4000) angry men armed to the teeth. A female sangoma (witch doctor) was sweeping the workers up and the workers wives were contributing to the volatile situation by also sweeping up the men. It is easy now to condemn the policemen for fighting fire with fire. Some of the people killed by the mine workers were HACK TO DEATH and at leash one was set alight. Have anyone an idea what violence are involved in cutting a person to death or set a person alight and waiting for that person to burning to death. This incident cannot be blamed on the SA Police alone. Most of the blame must be place on a president with NO back bone and no idea of how to govern a country and government officials only interested in enriching themselves. I am sure that one of these days we will hear that some ministers in the SA government and members of parliament or their family members are on the board of directors of the London Mine. I also dare the people who are big mouth about the police violence to go without weapons to a situation like this and try to talk sense into a violent group of people. I hate it when people can have there mouths full about police violence and sit in their comfortable arm chairs debating a decision a police officer had only a split second to make. You can debate and discuss for the rest of your life. Also remember that the police officer and his men have the r