South African riot police opened fire on striking miners armed with machetes and sticks at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, killing 34 men in the deadliest episode of a week of union violence.
Heavily armed officers backed by armored vehicles were laying out barbed wire barricades when they were outflanked by some of the estimated 3,000 miners massed on a rocky outcrop near the mine.
Police opened fire with automatic weapons on a group of men who burst out from behind a vehicle. The volley of bullets threw up clouds of dust, which cleared to reveal at least seven bodies lying on the ground.
It was not clear whether the police were fired upon. They appeared to be on edge and with rifles pointing forwards immediately before the incident. Reuters photographs showed machetes, spears and clubs lying near the bodies.
Lonmin’s flagship platinum plant, was forced to shut down on Tuesday because of the union unrest.
Most of the Western media has hidden the fact that in the conflict, there were 3000 heavily armed miners with spears, sticks and machetes, who outflanked the police officers and shouted dangerous chants.
South African President Jacob Zuma has announced an inquiry into the “tragic” killing of 34 striking miners by police forces.
Zuma, who cut short a trip to a regional conference in Zimbabwe after the shootings, said on Friday that he was “saddened and dismayed” at the “shocking” events and offered “sincere condolences” to the families of all the victims.
Thirty-four people were killed when riot police opened fire on the charging miners at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine on Thursday.
“We have to uncover the truth about what happened here. I have decided to institute a commission of inquiry. It will enable us to get to the real cause of the incident and derive the necessary lessons,” Zuma said.
“Today is not an occasion for blame, finger-pointing or recrimination. Today challenges us to restore calm and to share the pain of the affected families and communities. Today is about reminding ourselves of our responsibility as citizens.”
The president said it was a “cornerstone of hard-won democracy” to allow for peaceful protests, but added that today was “a day for us to mourn together as a nation – a day to start rebuilding and healing”.
Lonmin, whose operational headquarters is located in Johannesburg, is reportedly the world’s third-largest platinum producer with approximately 28,000 employees.
South Africa is home to nearly 80 percent of the world’s platinum reserves.
The tension reportedly stems, for the most part, from failed talks between leaders of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). As a result of the strike, the mine has halted its production.
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