Labour union leader Joseph Mathunjwa broke down in tears today when he described the shooting deaths of more than 30 dead near Lonmin's Marikana mine, in Rustenburg.
Using a handkerchief to wipe his eyes, he said Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) leaders had gone to a hilltop where protesters had gathered, without a police or a security escort, or any supervision.
“I pleaded with them: 'The writing is on the wall, they are going to kill you',” said Mathunjwa, who is Amcu's president.
Police opened fire on the protesters, many of whom were armed, yesterday while trying to disperse them after a week of violent protests that claimed 10 lives.
Mathunjwa said he twice pleaded with them to leave the Wonderkop hilltop, where they had based themselves, but they refused.
“They wanted R12,500 monthly pay ,” he said.
He said he and Lonmin management had tried to discuss a wage increase, but that the mine's management had refused to meet the workers.
He said the striking workers had refused to move before the shooting.
“I told them to leave... I pleaded, I pleaded,” he said as tears rolled down his face.
The workers refused. They said they would stay, even if they were killed.
Mathunjwa said President Jacob Zuma should order a probe into the shooting.
“It is with great regret... and shock... that this resulted in a loss of lives,” he said.
He said the killings could have been avoided and called on the nation to mourn those who died.
Amcu would assist with funeral arrangements where it could.
The union believed the week-long labour protest should have been treated with sensitivity.
Mathunjwa began the news briefing in Johannesburg by asking that a moment's silence be observed.
Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers are believed to be in a wrangle over union recognition at the platinum mine.