Top government committee heads to Marikana

2012-08-19 22:15
Marikana mourner. (Denis Farrell, AP)

Marikana mourner. (Denis Farrell, AP)

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Marikana - Miners must return to work on Monday or face being fired from the platinum mine where rivalry between unions exploded into violence that led to the deaths of 44 people in a week, Lonmin PLC said on Sunday.

Thirty-four were gunned down by police in one of the worst displays of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994.

President Jacob Zuma declared a week of national mourning starting on Monday to commemorate the lives of all South Africans who have died violently, especially the 44 at Marikana mine.

"The nation is in shock and pain," Zuma said in a statement. "We must this week reflect on the sanctity of human life ... We must avoid finger-pointing and recrimination. We must unite against violence from whatever quarter."

Hundreds of rock-drill operators have been leading an illegal strike among the mine's 28 000-strong labour force. Threats of violence kept many more away.

Lonmin had initially ordered miners to return to work by Friday. Then, after the shootings, changed the deadline to Monday, spokesperson Sue Vey explained.

Strikers said they were not sure what to do about the ultimatum. The company has not responded to their demands for the minimum wage to be increased from R5 500 to R12 500.

Last year, after a similar dispute over labour representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine, Lonmin fired all 9 000 workers. Then it asked them to reapply for their jobs and most were rehired.

"Because we work as a majority, if the majority goes back to work tomorrow [Monday] I'm going too," said miner Vuyisile Mchiza.

"But if the majority is not going back to work tomorrow, I'm not going either because I won't be able to go to work while others are sitting grieving."

Memorial

More than 100 people, miners, their families and local community members, processed past the mine on Sunday singing hymns as they made their way to the dusty veld where police officers fired a barrage of shots from automatic rifles and pistols at a group of charging miners on Thursday.

A moving memorial was led by Pastor Sakhumzi Qiqimana of Marikana New Creation Ministry who told those gathered: "Now we have no power to come in the middle of the negotiations of the company and the workers, but we are here now to pray and say 'God forgive us,' and now we are here to say 'This [killing] must stop.'"

Police say one of the charging miners shot at them first with a pistol and that they acted in self-defence. Earlier in the week, the strikers had butchered two captured police officers with machetes.

Lonmin said on Saturday that it will pay for the educations of all children of mine employees killed in the unrest, up to university level.

A presidential statement on Sunday said Zuma would announce the composition of a judicial commission of inquiry into the killings and its terms of reference within a few days.

It said he had appointed a committee comprising North West Premier Thandi Modise and the ministers of mineral resources Susan Shabangu, police Nathi Mthethwa, social development Bathabile Dlamini, co-operative governance Richard Baloyi, labour Mildred Oliphant, defence and military veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, health Aaron Motsoaledi, state security Siyabonga Cwele, and home affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to co-ordinate and lead all support to families and relatives.

The presidency said the committee would visit Marikana on Monday.

Many people have said they do not know whether missing husbands and sons are among the dead, among 78 wounded, or among more than 250 arrested on charges ranging from public violence to murder.

Zuma urged South Africans to "reaffirm our belief in peace, stability and order and in building a caring society free of crime and violence".



- SAPA
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