Minister begs forgiveness from miners

2012-08-21 22:17
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula addresses mine workers at the Lonmin’s Marikana mine. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula addresses mine workers at the Lonmin’s Marikana mine. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

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Marikana - Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula apologised on Tuesday to angry workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine who held up plastic packets of bullet casings, the first government official to beg forgiveness for the police shootings that killed 34 striking miners, wounded another 78 and shocked the nation.

The minister's apology came at the site of the killings where hundreds of mourners walked barefoot earlier in a ceremony to bless the site.

The minister spoke after one furious miner demanded to know why President Jacob Zuma has not come to address them, and threatened not to vote for the African National Congress.

"If Jacob Zuma doesn't want to come here, how does he expect to gain our votes?" One man shouted as a posse of government ministers gathered before hundreds of striking miners.

Another piped up: "Don't you know if the miners here don't vote for you, the ANC is going down?"

Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula responded: "We agree, as you see us standing in front of you here, that blood was shed at this place. We agree that it was not something to our liking and, as a representative of the government, I apologise."

When miners started shaking plastic bags of bullet casings at her, evidence of the many bullets that police fired in volleys last Thursday, she said: "I am begging, I beg and I apologise, may you find forgiveness in your hearts."

She added: "The blood that is boiling is not helping anyone here at all."

Police commissioner Riah Phiyega was criticised this week for absolving her officers of guilt saying: "It was the right thing to do" to fire in alleged self-defence.

No police officer was hurt in the shooting though two were savagely hacked to death by strikers last week.

The government did intervene in favour of the strikers, persuading mine managers that no striking miners should be fired in the week that South Africa officially mourns the killings, the presidency said on Tuesday.

Managers of Lonmin had ordered strikers to report for duty by 07:00 Tuesday or get fired, even as some family members still were searching for missing loved ones, not knowing whether they were dead or alive among 260 arrested protesters or in one of the hospitals.

Zuma rushed home from a regional summit in neighboring Mozambique on Friday to attend to the crisis. He flew directly to the area of the Marikana mine and visited wounded miners in the hospital. But he did not come to address the grieving and furious strikers.

Tuesday's visit by an inter-ministerial committee was the first official visit to the scene of the shootings.

Vendetta

The first politician to venture here was former ANC Youth Julius Malema, who came on Saturday and was welcomed as a hero and used the opportunity to promote his vendetta to get Zuma ousted.

Malema, who was expelled from the ANC in April , on Tuesday told reporters that "President Zuma doesn't care about these people [the striking miners]".

He spoke outside a police station near the mine where he went with strike leaders to file a criminal case of murder against the police for the shootings.

"We strongly believe that it is within the laws and constitution to hold all people who kill other people accountable within the confines of the law," Former ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu told reporters.

Malema said he does not trust a commission of inquiry being arranged by Zuma because it would be "manipulated by the politicians."

Earlier onTuesday at the dusty site of the killings, hundreds of mourners walked barefoot as church leaders blessed the ground, with a Methodist bishop drawing a large cross in the dirt.

"Church members have come to express solidarity in the wake of what really has been a shocking event," Bishop Gavin Taylor said.

"It's almost indescribable that people could have been killed in this way."

As others sang hymns one woman, Alakhe Nombeu, sobbed. She said her brother was one of the strikers killed by the police and that she finally found the name of her missing husband among those arrested only three days after the shootings.

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane announced that officials by late on Tuesday had identified 33 of the 34 bodies of shot miners, including one man from Lesotho.

Chabane's spokesperson Harold Maloka said it had taken days to check the mine's data base, the government data base and ensure that families were able to identify the men.

"It becomes a long process because some family members were looking for their loved ones and they might not be among the dead at the morgue or the wounded in hospitals," he said.

Brown muti

Meanwhile, two men who survived the mass shooting by police say a traditional healer told the strikers that police bullets would not harm them if they used traditional medicine, the Daily Dispatch newspaper reported on Tuesday

They said many of the miners drank a brown muti to strengthen them ahead of the confrontation with police.

"They were cut several times on their upper body and a black substance was smeared on the wounds," Nothi Zimanga said, according to the newspaper in East London.

"They were then told when they confront the police they must not look back and must just charge forward. If you look back then the muti will not work."

Miner Bulelani Malawana said he was offered the muti for about R1 000 but turned it down, as did Zimanga.

Some 3 000 rock drill operators started the strike 10 August demanding higher wages. The operators are among the least educated of mine workers, often illiterate and pride themselves of doing the most dangerous job in the mine.

In Cape Town, legislators held a special memorial service in Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday.

It was opened by ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga, who addressed an apparent growing tendency to resolve disputes with violence in South Africa.

"It must never be in our psychology as a people that to achieve our demands, we must engage in violence and kill," Motshekga said.

"It surely must never be part of our being as a people that the maintenance of law and order should have to end in bloodshed."

- AP
Read more on:    anc  |  nosiviwe mapisa-nqakula  |  jacob zuma  |  mathole motshekga  |  collins chabane  |  mahikeng  |  mining unrest
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