More strife in South Africa’s troubled mines – by Margaret Evans (CBC – January 21, 2013)

Labour unrest ripping through the country

Picture a site not far from the town of Rustenburg in the broad expanse of South Africa’s North West “platinum province,” along the border with Botswana. To one side stands the industrial hulk of the Lonmin mine, symbol of industry and (until recently) South Africa’s booming resource economy. It’s grey concrete shafts rise up out of the ground to tower over a maze of power lines.

Sprawled at its feet, the muddy shantytown that serves as home to the miners who fuel the industry, and scratch out their meagre living. In the distance you can see the red kopi, the hill where 34 miners met their end, shot dead by police in the midst of a wildcat strike in August. A crooked cluster of white wooden crosses, their memorial.

This is the stage where the most seminal event in South Africa’s recent history was played out, where the raw elements of a fractured society collided with deadly effect.

“They were killed right in front of me,” says miner Teboho Hlakentso. “And some of the people who got killed, they were not just shot, they were stabbed with spears by the police.

“So the people would be shot and they would be laying there wounded and dying and the police would take their spears and the police would finish them off with spears.”

The images of miners being gunned down, captured on social media, shocked the nation and summoned memories of police brutality during the years of apartheid.

The South African government’s response was to set up a three-month commission of inquiry, headed by retired judge Ian Farlam, which was supposed to report this month. It now is to resume hearings today, its mandate extended until June.

But this next stage could be even more emotionally and politically fraught as South Africa is undergoing yet another spasm of labour unrest.

Adding to it, Anglo American Platinum, the world’s largest producer of the precious metal, announced late last week that it would shutter two South African mines, sell another and cut nearly 14,000 jobs — most of these in the Marikana area, near the Lonmin-owned mine where August’s violence left its bitter mark.

A confusing story
Seventy-eight people were injured that day in Marikana, while 270 of the striking Lonmin miners were arrested and then charged with the deaths of their fellow protesters.

The police say their officers acted in self-defence. Violence in the area had intensified in the days ahead of the clash; two policemen and a security guard had been killed and many of the demonstrators were carrying traditional spears.

But the striking miners, who had abandoned their own union, accusing it of collusion with the mine owners, deny they were out for blood.

For the rest of this article, please go to the CBC website: