Courier Mail

Miner massacre evokes memories of apartheid

Sat August 18, 2012 11:01pm

SOUTH Africans believed police massacres were for the history books and museums, but around Soweto's Hector Pieterson Memorial the killing of 34 miners stirred dark memories and new worries.

In Soweto's 1976 uprising, honoured at this memorial, white apartheid police gunned down black students demanding a better education in a protest that left 23 dead the first day, and sparked a national uprising.

On Thursday at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, 34 workers were shot dead in a clash with police as they demanded better wages in a wildcat strike.

"I honestly thought that we were over that time. There was supposed to be a change of mindset among the country's security officials," said Thozamile Ngesi, a visitor at the Soweto memorial.

"I have no doubt that the police wouldn't have dared shoot at a group of rich white workers," the unemployed 27-year-old said.

Mineworkers in South Africa are among the poorest of the working class, blighted by abysmal living conditions and poor pay.

The deadly shootout at the bottom of a dusty hill outside a mine run by Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, came after a week-long strike over pay near the northwest mining town of Rustenburg.

The workers, mostly migrants from rural villages across South Africa and neighbouring countries were demanding a tripling of their wages from the current 4000 rand ($46) a month.

Their demands had fallen on deaf ears and they resisted calls by union leaders to return to work, their determination to win a better life getting stronger with each day passing.

"Most of us expected freedom to deliver us from social injustices and poverty. But what we see is more suffering by the poor and the capitalists keep getting richer," Ngesi added.

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