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Striking workers march on crippled South African mine

Hundreds of striking miners marched Wednesday on the Lonmin Marikana mine in South Africa, as workers accused police of shooting their colleagues in cold blood during a crackdown that killed 34.

Armoured police trucks and two police helicopters kept watch as several hundred miners carrying sticks and singing marched toward the mine where a deadly strike has killed 44 people, including 34 gunned down by officers in the worst episode of police violence since the end of apartheid.

“We’re going to remind the mines to show those of our colleagues who are working that they are not supposed to be working,” said a striker who did not want to give his name.

About 20 workers carried a picture of one of the miners killed in the August 16 bloodshed, which escalated an already deadly wildcat strike in which 10 people including two police had previously been killed.

A local media report Wednesday raised further questions about whether police who opened fire on the miners were acting in self-defence, as they have claimed.

Workers who were released from detention after prosecutors dropped murder charges against them for the deaths of their colleagues said officers had gunned down injured and surrendering strikers and boasted of the killings.

“Those in front of me were shot at close range and fell over me, and that’s how my life was spared,” Lungisile Lutshetu told The Star newspaper.

“There was a Sotho man who I saw kneeling next to a big stone with his hands up. He begged for his life and apologised profusely for something he didn’t know about, but the heartless officers riddled him with automatic rifles, which pierced through his body.”

Lutshetu said he saw “some of the injured to be shot again in the head later and finished off” and that officers had “boasted about how many people they have shot and how they still wanted to kill more”.

Another released worker, Johannes Mashabela, said he had heard “one of the officers screaming ‘shoot him'”, the newspaper said.

Government-mediated talks to break the strike were set to restart later Wednesday, but workers have refused to return to work at the crippled mine until Lonmin, the world’s number three platinum producer, gives in to their wage demands.

“Today we are at the crossroads, either we have a deadlock or a settlement,” said Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of trade union Solidarity, which represents mostly skilled workers and is part of the talks.

“If the workers insist that 12,500 rand ($1,479, 1,182 euros) is an absolute minimum, then we will have a deadlock,” he added.