Thousands remember Marikana

2013-08-16 19:54
Mine workers march past the mine before a memorial service gets under way, near the Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, Friday Aug. 16, 2013. A year ago, police opened fire on striking platinum miners killing 34 and injuring 78. The kil

Mine workers march past the mine before a memorial service gets under way, near the Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, Friday Aug. 16, 2013. A year ago, police opened fire on striking platinum miners killing 34 and injuring 78. The kil

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Marikana - The comrades of 34 striking miners shot dead by police descended on Marikana in their thousands on Friday to mark the first anniversary of the bloodbath.

Crowds of co-workers, relatives and opposition politicians amassed at the foot of a dusty outcrop where on 16 August 2012, police unleashed a 284-bullet barrage that plunged SA into crisis and shocked the world.

Packs of stick-wielding workers, many clad in green trade union T-shirts, chanted and sang, in scenes reminiscent of the fateful day.

With no-one yet held responsible for the men's deaths and fury still raw, police in riot vans stood back at a distance as two force helicopters circled overhead.

"These people died for nothing," said Gabriel Shakhane, 42, a migrant miner from Lesotho, insisting the low wages and poor living standards that sparked the upwelling of anger a year ago remain.

"We were just singing like this on that day, not fighting, but the police thought we wanted to fight and they attacked us," he said.

Religious leaders held prayers, a roll call of the slain miners will be read and there will be a "blow-by-blow account of the massacre”, during the long day commemoration, according to organisers.

The event will culminate in a moment of silence shortly after 14:00, around the same time a year ago police opened fire at the foot of a hill.

Ben Magara, the CEO of Lonmin, was to address the miners. "I'm mourning," he told reporters.

Wage dispute

In the run-up to the killings at least 10 other people - including two police officers - died amid a highly charged work stoppage over wages at the mining firm.

On the eve of the commemorations the national police commissioner called for calm.

"We wish to appeal to everyone who will be in attendance to conduct themselves appropriately," said Riah Phiyega, who gave evidence before a state inquiry into the bloodbath.

"Most importantly, we plead with them to not carry dangerous weapons including knives, knobkerries, firearms or any other dangerous weapons."

The inquiry has yet to conclude, mired by delays and bogged down by disputes about the lack of state funding for the victims' legal fees.

A court ruling on the fees dispute was delayed on Friday. No one has been held responsible for what many call the worst violence since apartheid ended.

"We still haven't got the facts of what happened at Marikana, the commission of inquiry hasn't wrapped up its work - we are not close to knowing who is legally responsible for the deaths of 34 miners," said political commentator Eusebius McKaiser.

Amnesty International's Noel Kututwa warned accountability was needed.

"The long-term consequences for the respect and protection of human rights in South Africa will be severe should the South African authorities fail," he said.

ANC boycotts memorial

The ANC has said it will not participate in the memorial, saying it did not recognise the organisers - a group linked to a militant mining union.

"The ANC finds it immoral and totally unacceptable that such a traumatic incident could be turning into a political playground by some political parties," the party said in a statement.

Two days before the anniversary President Jacob Zuma issued a statement urging peace, prayers and reflection on the day.

The event is being organised by a group linked to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has fought a sometimes bloody battle for power with the ANC-allied National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Several assassinations have taken place over the last year, with leaders from both sides dying amid the battle for supremacy.

Amcu's leader Joseph Mathunjwa said the event was "not about politicking. We are here to heal the wounds”.

He had earlier extended an invitation to NUM's leaders "to be part, and join me in Marikana”.

But at the 11th hour, NUM announced that it will stay away because the event has been "hijacked”.

The move shredded hopes that the two unions could use the event to move beyond deadly violence between its members.

Julius Malema, EFF leader, will also be among the speakers.

His party is pushing for the nationalisation of mines.

"Even as we are remembering victims we are quite frankly messing with their memories by playing politics with the commemoration, politicising the commemoration itself," said McKaiser.

"It means we haven't learnt lessons."

Read more on:    ai  |  lonmin  |  police  |  amcu  |  num  |  anc  |  eff  |  joseph mathunjwa  |  riah phiyega  |  jacob zuma  |  julius malema  |  mahikeng  |  marikana anniversary

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