South Africa probes police killings at Marikana

Associated Press
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A miner from the Lonmin Platinum mine returns to work after Lonmin resolved a five-week strike by agreeing to pay raises of up to 22 percent, in Marikana, Rustenburg, South Africa, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's commission of inquiry into the killings at the Marikana mines will have the power to summon witnesses, search and seize and demand documentation from other investigations, the justice minister announced Friday.

The details of the investigation came as South Africa's wave of mining strikes spread to another gold mine.

The commission will investigate the 46 deaths during the Lonmin PLC mine strike. Police killed 34 miners on Aug. 16 in Marikana. Eleven had already died in violence there before the shootings, and a councilor in the African National Congress died Wednesday after being shot by a rubber bullet during a raid in the area, bringing the death toll to 46.

"The primary objective of the commission of inquiry is to investigate the underlying causes of this tragedy and establish the truth that is vital for the restoration of harmony, peace, and justice to all affected by these unfortunate events," said Justice Minister Jeff Radebe Friday in Pretoria.

The inquiry will look into the roles played by Lonmin, the South African police, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the National Union of Mineworkers in the violence "in relation to all the events before, during and after the unfortunate incidents in Marikana," Radebe said. It will also determine whether any of those investigated could have put measures into place to prevent the violence.

The first phase of the four-month inquiry will cost the government more than 20 million rand ($2.4 million), he said. Public hearings will be held at the Marikana Hall starting Oct. 1, and transportation will be provided for families wanting to attend, he said.

Miners for the Lonmin PLC platinum mine returned to work Thursday after a nearly six-week strike, but labor unrest has spread to several gold, platinum and chrome mines, damaging investor confidence in the country that produces 75 percent of world platinum and is the No. 4 chrome producer and in the top 10 of gold producers.

Lonmin's deal to increase pay to its miners by up to 22 percent has also influenced workers at other mines who are now demanding similar raises.

Strikes spread late Thursday to the AngloGold Ashanti Kopanang mine, which employs 5,000 staff, the company's spokesman Alan Fine said Friday. He said the strike at the mine about 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of Johannesburg began with the night shift, but said the company hasn't yet received any demands or communications from strikers on what they are demanding.

The Kopanang mine produced about 4 percent of AngloGold Ashanti's total production in the first half of this year, the company said.

Strikes at the Gold Fields mines near Carletonville entered a 12th day Friday, with 85 percent of the 15,000 workers not going to work, according to Sven Lunsche spokesman for Gold Fields.

Miners who work for Anglo American Platinum, the world's largest platinum producer, also continued strikes Friday after days in which police dispersed gatherings by using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Alathus Modrsane, one of the leaders elected by the miners, said that they have now gotten permits for gatherings, including one on Monday.

"If we cannot gather, we will be divided," he said. "We are trying to get an improvement of wages."

President Jacob Zuma has ordered the country's defense forces to be deployed to assist police in the labor unrest, according a statement from his office. It said the forces will be deployed until January and can assist wherever needed in the country.

Last weekend some 1,000 soldiers were trucked into the "platinum belt" northwest of Johannesburg.

Radebe said the deployment would not hamper investigations in Marikana.