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JOHANNESBURG — The wild volley of gunfire erupted for less than three minutes. When it was over, at least seven bodies – and perhaps as many as 18 – lay in pools of blood on a dusty South African hilltop.It took just a brief burst of gunfire to expose all of the worst ills of post-apartheid South Africa: a volatile cocktail of poverty, labour militancy, police brutality, industrial decline and an increasingly angry and radicalized population.
The deadly clash between police and striking workers on Thursday was the latest chapter in a saga of mounting violence in South Africa’s mining sector – historically the biggest employer in the country, but now in serious decline.
The assault by enraged mineworkers, which sparked the final volley of gunfire, should have been no surprise to the police. It followed a week of bloodshed at the Marikana platinum mine, about 70 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, owned by London-based Lonmin.
Up to 3,000 police, backed by helicopters and armoured vehicles, have been facing off against about 3,000 striking workers, many of whom were carrying machetes, iron rods and wooden sticks.