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Poloko Tau, Baldwin Ndaba and Sapa
JOHANNESBURG: The site of an illegal strike, that had already claimed the lives of 10 people, turned into a kill zone yesterday. By evening an unknown number of dead lay scattered across the veld in Marikana in North West, amid fears that yesterday’s final death toll could exceed 30.
The injured, said to number up to 86, lay groaning in pain as the gunfire continued.
Next to them the corpses of their comrades bore gruesome bullet wounds and gashes.
The day had begun when North West police head Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo vowed to end the Lonmin wage strike.
No one, not the unions, the strikers on the hill nor the journalists at the scene, expected the mayhem that followed.
During the course of the day, thousands of strikers began leaving the hill they had occupied when they saw police begin erecting barbed-wire barricades.
When asked shortly before the shooting if the strikers’ gathering was a peaceful protest, national police spokesman Captain Dennis Adriao said it could not be “when people are armed”.
“We’ve accommodated them for four days, 10 people are now dead; property has been damaged and burnt. We now have to use force,” he said.
Until yesterday afternoon the death toll had stood at 10 – two police officers, two security guards, three striking miners and three bystanders since the illegal strike began on Friday.
Those on the hilltop had vowed not to leave until their salaries had been upped from R5 000 to R12 500.
Attempts by police and union representatives to negotiate a truce with the strikers, who were armed with home-made weapons including axes, sharpened steel rods, pangas and knobkerries, had failed.
Just before the police moved in, representatives from the new union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), tried to intervene and get management to address the striking workers.
The workers did not want anyone but Lonmin’s chief executive Ian Farmer to address them. But Lonmin released a statement saying Farmer was on sick leave and in hospital so the workers dug in their heels.
The shooting began as the group of protesters moved down the hill towards a nearby informal settlement.
Police began advancing towards them. The workers scattered, some running into the open veld, others towards the informal settlement.
Helicopters hovered overhead and police – some in armoured Nyalas, others on horseback – followed in hot pursuit.
Police used water canon, teargas and live ammunition. Police claimed they fired because they were shot at first.
After the shooting stopped, paramedics and ambulances were brought in to treat and move the injured.