Cops had no option - Phiyega

2012-08-17 20:02

Relatives search for loved ones

2012-08-17 17:00

Relatives of protesting Marikana mineworkers have gathered at Lonmin's hospital to search for their loved ones after more than 30 miners were shot dead in a confrontation with the police. WATCH.WATCH

Rustenburg - Police were forced to use live ammunition in a deadly clash with protesters near Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, Rustenburg, police chief Riah Phiyega said on Friday.

"The police had to use force to protect themselves from the... group," Phiyega told reporters in Rustenburg.

"The militant group stormed towards the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons... Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force."

She said the shooting that erupted left 34 people dead and at least 78 injured.

Another 10 people, including police officers and security guards, had by that time been killed in violent protests in the past week.

Phiyega said she had given police "responsibility to execute the task they needed to do".

'No time for finger-pointing'

"This is no time for blaming, this is no time for finger-pointing. It is a time for us to mourn...," she said.

A total of 259 people were arrested and six firearms recovered.

On Thursday afternoon, police moved in on protesters encamped on a hill near the mine, after days of negotiations.

The protests were believed to be linked to rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) over recognition agreements at the mine. Workers also wanted higher wages.

On Friday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa claimed there was no union rivalry, but that the NUM had "internal issues" which had nothing to do with his union.

He broke down in tears describing the shooting at the mine, which began shortly after he had pleaded with workers to leave the hilltop.

"I told them to leave...I pleaded, I pleaded," he told journalists in Sandton.

Workers had earlier refused to leave, vowing to stay on the hill even if they were killed.

Mathunjwa said he had wanted to go back and die with his slain colleagues when he saw them fall.

'Getting away with murder'

The shooting, which was the culmination of a week of violent protests at the mine, was widely condemned.

The SA Communist Party's North West secretary Madoda Sambatha said Amcu leaders Mathunjwa and Steve Kholekilethe should be arrested.

He claimed they were responsible for co-ordinating the "barbaric act".

Democratic Alliance MP Lindiwe Mazibuko called for the police's use of live ammunition to be "fully interrogated" in Parliament.

She said by getting these answers, Parliament could ensure that such horrific incidents never happen again.

The National Education, Health, and Allied Workers' Union spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said in a statement that mine management should be made to account for the deaths.

"We also demand an investigation on the role of labour brokers in this whole [saga]," he said.

The remuneration and working conditions of miners also needed to be addressed, as "these mining companies have been allowed to get away with murder... for far too long".

Residents of an informal settlement near the mine expressed shock at the violence.

"I cannot believe that this happened just on our doorstep," said community member Angy Peters.

"We did not expect the strike would end like this."
Read more on:    lonmin  |  police  |  amcu  |  num  |  riah phiyega  |  mahikeng  |  mining unrest  |  mining  |  strikes

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