South Africa: ‘Apartheid Era’ Police Brutality at Mine Massacre

On 16 August, 2012, a historic bloodbath occurred at a Lonmin mine in Marikana, South Africa, when police used lethal force on mine workers who were striking. The incident claimed 34 lives, injuring 78 more people, while 259 miners were arrested.

Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega stated in press conference that police officers used maximum force to protect themselves during the clashes.

The massacre has caused many reactions at both the domestic and international level. Ayanda Kota analyzing the issue writes:

The Marikana Mine is the richest platinum mine in the world and yet its workers live in shacks. Most of the slain workers are rock drillers, the most difficult and dangerous work in the mine. They do the most dangerous work in the mine and yet they earn only R4 000 a month. Through the blood and sweat in the mines they do not only produce wealth that is alienated from them, they also produce the fat cats, which wine and dine on naked bodies and call that sushi.

This video, uploaded to YouTube on 17 August by user , asks what can be revealed from studying the news footage of the event [WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT]:


Carina Conradie, a 21 year-old South African, has opened a Facebook page inviting people everywhere to join her project to end inequality and senseless killings in South. She recalls that:

310 people were killed in Khayelitsha between April 2010 and March 2011. 80% of households in the Western Cape do not know where their next meal will come from. This desperation leads to the violence of inequality that is seen on a daily basis in our communities.

We will therefore stand in hunger and solidarity on a 24 hour hunger strike every Monday until the 24th of September. Join us for as many Mondays as you can to spark debate and dialogue and spread awareness of this crisis.

Her plans are:

 This Monday (20/8) we will be striking in honour of the 34 protestors who were killed at the Lonmin mine shooting.

On Monday we will also meet at UCT (at 2pm outside the Arts Block) and in front of parliament (at 1pm) to engage with the issue of the violence of inequality and the ways in which the Lonmin shooting is such an example. Anyone who is hunger striking or wants to engage with these issues is encouraged to join in these gatherings.

Another Facebook page is called Justice now for Marikana Strikers! We condemn the police massacre of 45 strikers! The introductory part of the page reads:

 Thursday the 16th of August 2012 will go down in South African history as the new Sharpeville. 45 dead because police and the South African government cannot handle an independent union movement.

We are in solidarity with the workers of Marikana against the bosses and the police and those who support the bosses and police.

To protest this massacre and all other forms of police violence, we will gather at parliament on Friday the 17th of August at 3pm. Please bring signs.

Joining the discussion on the pageLorna Houston is of the opinion that:

 The blame game never moves us forward. RIP Striking Miners who were killed. Life in our country is not valued and so we can attack each other and kill – this is true for SAPS, strikers, protesters, abusers, gangsters and ‘regular’ people. We need to learn our own value so that we can begin to value others. Love, peace and harmony

On the same page, Rehad Desai has published a communiqué from a group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) calling for a series of activities to be held next week:

On Wednesday 22 August, civil society organisations – faith-based, non-governmental and community-based organisations, social movements and trade unions – will initiate an independent civil society-led inquiry into the massacre of more than 34 mineworkers at Marikana.

The communiqué gives details of the inquiry:

The launch will take place at a public meeting to be held this Wednesday. The meeting will hear testimony from Marikana workers, affected women and leaders of community organisations. We will hear their account of developments leading up to the massacre and a description of how the police slaughtered their loved ones and comrades. This version of events differs from those that have prevailed in the media.

Marco Guidetti expressing his view, says on the same Facebook page:

 No matter how bad the situation on the ground is, the government and it's resources (police,etc) should at all times do their best to protect it's populace. There are many non-lethal means that could've been employed to quell the unrest.

Many South African readers have commented on a story published by the BBC. Lillina Ruiters, 18 year-old Grahamstown resident summarizes the opinion of many people, when she states that:

This atrocious and outrageous violence is symptomatic of the relationship that has been developing between protesters and the police over the last two years. There have been violent outbreaks and confrontations with the police continually. It is no longer possible for the media to portray these as “isolated events”.

South African people are angry and tired of the inequality that is so rife in our country. It is heart-breaking to see our country being so brutally torn apart in a manner strikingly reminiscent of the apartheid days

While the South African government has declared a week of national mourning, the mining company Lonmin issued an ultimatum to the strikers, threatening to fire them if they failed to report for work on Monday 20 August. Commenting on this ultimatum on, user Three Men On a Boat wondersHow the company thinks that threatening people’s employment at a time like this will help bring calm at this point is beyond us. It is the initial refusal to engage which has caused the situation to escalate and radicalising it further does noone any good.

However, Kerryman reports that:

But it said just 27% of the staff who were supposed to go on shift at the Marikana mine were at work on Monday morning, which was not enough to resume production and means the shutdown has dragged into a second week.

In another official communiqué, the mining company Lonmin says:

In addition to the Help Desk Services [established at Lonmin’s Andrew Saffy Hospital], Lonmin commits to provide funding for the education of all the children of employees who lost their lives. This funding will cover education costs from primary school to university.

When the police crackdown took place, President Jacob Zuma was attending the 32nd SADC Summit in Maputo, Mozambique. He cut short his participation and returned home to visit Marikana. He later announced at a news conference at Mooi Nooi near Rustenburg, that a commission of inquiry to probe the deaths of the 34 miners will be put in place. President Zuma said there was a need to uncover the truth about what happened there.

On Monday 20 August, a report issued by (September National Imbizo) (SNI), a national voluntary movement of like minded people who wish to bring about a new society where all are taken care of for real, after a visit to the site of the dramatic event in Marikana, was published on Facebook saying:

What is clear from what we are told is that this was an ambush. The video material in mainstream media showing workers charging at the police was in fact workers running away from bullets being hurled from behind. Why would workers, armed with knobknorries charge at armed police? The workers were completely surrounded and what we've been seeing in the media is only half the story. There was clearly a mission to shoot to kill, thus the deployment of the army.

The coming days will be very difficult in the political and social space in South Africa. The Marikana massacre is the most serious tragedy in South Africa since the end of the Apartheid era.

Some political analysts have compared it to the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, when the South African Apartheid police opened fire on the crowd killing 69 people and the Soweto Uprising of 1976, where it is estimated that 700 people were killed and another 4,000 were injured. The 6 June is now a public holiday, known as Youth Day, in South Africa, in remembrance of the Soweto Uprising.


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