Nobel literature prize winner Nadine Gordimer, a powerful critic of apartheid, told AFP she never imagined the police violence that killed 34 miners could ever happen in the new South Africa.
In scenes that drew comparisons to the infamous 1960 Sharpeville massacre, when apartheid police fired into a crowd of blacks, police on Thursday opened fire into group of striking miners demanding a tripling of their salaries.
“I am absolutely devastated. I can't believe this terrible massacre between our own people, our own black people,” she said in an interview. “Ghastly, completely unacceptable.”
“If you ask me when when we celebrated our victory in the struggle, when Umkonto weSizwe (the ANC armed wing) won against the South African army, and especially those of us around, as I was in in the ANC, we could never have believed this would ever happen,” she said.
Police said they acted in self defence against the armed protestors.
Gordimer said South African police lacked crowd control skills, despite the recurring protests against poor living conditions across the country.
“I don't understand why, since we have had so many protests over the living conditions of people living in shacks, why the police do not have sophisticated, more competent methods of dealing with people who become violent in a crowd.
“Why would you simply pick up your gun and shoot back?”
Gordimer, who had several works banned by the apartheid regime, said in the dawn of democracy euphoria, a host of inequalities were overlooked and no plans were put in place to deal with them.
“There were many factors we didn't take into account. All we were absolutely interested about was getting rid of apartheid. We didn't realise that the financial inequality along with all the other inequalities, were sure going to be with us.”
“And unfortunately we seem to have quite wrongly not talked about this before, and how we were going to deal with this situation.”
The 88-year-old writer and political activist said as a young white girl she was made to believe that black miners were dangerous.
But as she grew up and became politically aware, she got to understand the deplorable living conditions of black mine workers, who were kept far away in so-called compounds.
As co-author of the book “On The Mines”, she went in to understand first-hand the mine workers' living conditions, which she believes have not improved much.
“The compounds, the sleeping quarters, were concrete bunks, one above the other, concrete. And I don't know what the conditions are like now (but) I am sure they are not particularly comfortable.
She said the “incredible” compound system continued “until I am sure, very recently.”
“These people are really the most important working factor in bringing out the wealth that we have, our wealth, our platinum, our gold and uranium underground. They have always been underpaid and under-cared for.”
Many of them have suffered from mining-related illnesses such as tuberculosis, she said.
She was also annoyed that President Jacob Zuma did not return home immediately in the thick of the violence.
“President Zuma was on some mission in Mozambique. Why didn't he get on one of his private jets and come back immediately to deal with the trouble?”
She does not spare mine owners from blame.
“I want to see them brought into the public domain to (explain) what they intend to do to change the conditions of these workers.” - Sapa-AFP