The hill of horror

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st p1 massacre INLSA FATAL CLASH: The bodies of some of Lonmins striking mineworkers lie on the ground near Wonderkop informal settlement after police officers opened fire on the workers, who they say charged at them, near Rustenburg yesterday. Pictures: Phill Magakoe

Sapa-AP

An eerie silence hung over Lonmin’s Marikana mine this morning after deadly clashes between the police and protesters yesterday left at least 30 dead and over 80 injured.

The area seemed quiet, except for police clustered at the bottom of a hill where striking miners had established their base before yesterday’s massacre.

This was in stark contrast to yesterday sounds of screaming, moaning, shouting – and gunshots.

Police opened fire on striking miners who charged a line of officers trying to disperse them, killing some and wounding others in the worst shootings by authorities since the end of the apartheid era.

The shooting happened after police failed to get the striking miners to hand over machetes, clubs and other weapons.

st spear miner FIRED UP: Striking mineworkers armed with homemade spears and pangas at the Wonderkop informal settlement near Rustenburg yesterday. INLSA

Some miners left, but others carrying weapons began war chants and started marching towards the township near the mine, said Molaole Montsho, a Sapa journalist at the scene.

The police first used a water cannon, then used stun grenades and tear gas to try and break up the crowd, Montsho said.

Suddenly a group of miners rushed through the underbrush and tear gas at a line of police officers, who immediately opened fire, with miners falling to the ground.

Dozens of shots were fired by police armed with automatic rifles and pistols.

Footage broadcast by e.tv carried the sound of a barrage of automatic gunfire that ended with police officers shouting: “Cease fire!”

By that time bodies were lying in the dust, some with blood gushing from them.

Another image showed some miners, their eyes wide, looking at heavily armed police officers in riot gear in the distance.

President Jacob Zuma said he was “shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence”.

“We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence,” Zuma said in a statement.

Today a new razor-wire fence divided the hill from the nearby informal settlement.

By 7am, two lone residents had emerged from their dwellings and, glancing at the police Nyalas outside, they made their way to the road to catch a taxi.

Movement on the road to the area was unrestricted, in contrast to yesterday when mine security guards manned two checkpoints and questioned journalists.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa told Talk Radio 702 this morning that more than 30 people were killed and that “many” more were injured.

“Police did everything they could… but people (miners) said they were not leaving and are prepared to fight,” he said.

North West Health Department spokesman Tebogo Lekgethwane said 25 bodies had been removed from the scene and taken to the Phokeng Forensic Mortuary.

Yesterday Captain Dennis Adriao said police had to use force to protect themselves.

“The SA Police Service was viciously attacked by the group, using a variety of weapons, including firearms,” he said.

“The police, in order to protect their own lives and in self-defence, were forced to engage the group with force.”

The protests are believed to be linked to rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) over recognition agreements at the mine.

Workers also wanted higher wages.

They claimed to be earning R4 000 a month, with those living outside the hostel earning an extra R1 000.

Reported demands have included pay of R12 500 a month.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of miners had gathered at a rocky cliff within sight of the mine’s smelter.

They cheered, sang and marched around the area with machetes and clubs under the watchful eye of police officers in armoured trucks.

Some leaders of the miners spoke with the police and largely followed their instructions, breaking up the protest as dusk fell.

It remains unclear what sparked the miners’ fatal charge at police.

Zweli Mnisi, Police Ministry spokesman, claimed that the miners shot at police as well, using one of the weapons they stole from officers on Monday.

“We had a situation where people who were armed to the teeth attack and killed others – even police officers,” Mnisi said in a statement.

“What should police do in such situations when clearly what they are faced with are armed and hardcore criminals who murder police?”

While the initial walkout and protest focused on wages, the ensuing violence has been fuelled by the struggles between the dominant NUM and the upstart Amcu.

Disputes between the two unions escalated into violence earlier this year at another mine.

Black miners have for a long time faced low salaries and poor living conditions in shanty towns often beset by alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution.

Apartheid kept black African workers from more lucrative jobs offered to white people.

Though the nation became truly democratic in the 1990s, the salaries of black miners remain low.

Mining drives the economy of SA, which remains one of the world’s dominant producers of platinum, gold and chromium.

Lonmin is the world’s third-largest platinum producer and its mine at Marikana produces 96 percent of all its platinum.

The violence has shaken the precious metals market, as platinum futures ended up $39, or 2.8 percent, at $1 435.20 an ounce in trading yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Meanwhile, Lonmin stock plunged 6.76 percent yesterday on the London Stock Exchange.

The company’s stock value has dropped more than 12 percent since the start of the unrest.

Lonmin also announced yesterday that its CEO, Ian Farmer, had been diagnosed with a serious illness and had been hospitalised.

The company did not disclose Farmer’s illness.

See pages 3, 5 and Business Report


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