S.African mineworkers remember 2012 Marikana killings

Julie Jammot
People hold placards reading "Justice now for Marikana, Prosecute police now, Drop the charges, Fight for the living wage" on August 16, 2014 in Marikana
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People hold placards reading "Justice now for Marikana, Prosecute police now, Drop the charges, Fight for the living wage" on August 16, 2014 in Marikana (AFP Photo/Marco Longari)

Marikana (South Africa) (AFP) - Thousands of South African platinum mineworkers gathered on Saturday at Marikana to commemorate the second anniversary of the killing of 34 of their colleagues by police during a strike.

The workers were joined by community members on a rocky hill outside a Lonmin mine where the shooting took place.

The hill has become a monument to those who died in the massacre, which was captured on camera and beamed across the world in scenes reminiscent of apartheid-era police killings.

The striking workers had been demanding higher wages of up to 12,500 rand ($1,180, 880 euros) a month.

The commemoration comes only weeks after the end of the longest mining strike in South Africa's history brought, which brought the country to the brink of recession.

Several opposition political leaders attended Saturday's event, which South Africa's President Jacob Zuma described as "a day of reflection".

Mineworkers, some carrying banners reading "Remember the Victims of Marikana" and others wearing T-shirts emblazoned with images of their slain colleagues, arrived in groups, chanting slogans.

"I am here to support the families of the workers who were killed on the koppie (hill)," said mineworker Eric Raadt.

"They were striking for a better life," he told AFP.

A few white crosses were planted near the hill at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg to commemorate the massacre, which came at the peak of several days of violence.

In total, the unrest is believed to have claimed more than 40 lives.

Family members of the 34 mineworkers shot on August 16 2012 held red burning candles and each stood up during a roll call of the deceased.

"This tragic day should be marked as a day of reflection and recommitment to peace and tolerance in the country," Zuma, who did not attend the event, said in a statement.

"We need to recommit ourselves to ensuring that violence is never again used to solve problems of any kind in our country."

For widows like Zameka Nungu, the pain of the massacre is still too much to bear.

"This day brings back memories of that day, when my husband was shot. It's very painful for me," she said.

- Political blame game -

A judicial probe set up soon after the killings is still under way outside the capital Pretoria, having heard evidence from some of the country's top politicians.

Former police minister Nathi Mthethwa and current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are among prominent figures who have appeared before the commission.

Ramaphosa, who was a director of Lonmin at the time of the deadly strike, was drawn into the dispute when a senior executive at the mining company urged him to use his "influence" to petition officials who had the "necessary resources at their disposal".

Retired appeals court judge Ian Farlam was forced to briefly halt proceedings on Monday as protesters heckled the deputy president, shouting: "Ramaphosa must resign!"

Wage strikes in South Africa's key mining sector continued this year, with tens of thousands of workers at the world's top three platinum producers embarking on a five-month stay away.

The stoppages at Anglo America Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin ended with the signing of a pay hike agreement, which would see wages increase to 12,500 rand over three years.

In Marikana, opposition leaders laid the blame for the killings on the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

Julius Malema, the former head of the ANC youth wing who now leads the militant Economic Freedom Fighters, promised the poverty-striken community that his party would "teach the ANC government" how to take care of the poor.

"It is more painful for the families this year than the first year," Malema reportedly said.

No ANC party representatives were present at the event and spokesman Zizi Kodwa told SAPA news agency the government had not been invited.

South Africa's mining minister, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, on Wednesday admitted the government had mishandled the strike, telling a mining conference: "We could have managed that situation much, much better."