S.Africa remembers Marikana bloodbath

16th August 2013, Comments 0 comments

Comrades and families of 34 striking miners shot dead by police marked the first anniversary of the bloodbath at Marikana on Friday in an emotional rally boycotted by South Africa's ruling ANC.

An estimated 10,000 people gathered at the foot of the outcrop where on August 16, 2012, police unleashed a 284-bullet barrage that plunged South Africa into crisis and shocked the world.

The owner of the Marikana platinum mine was among those attending the commemorations and for the first time publicly apologised to the relatives of the slain workers.

"We will never replace your loved ones, and I say we are truly sorry for that," said Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara.

"It should not have taken so many lives for us... as a nation to learn that this should not have happened and this should never happen again."

The peaceful crowd, including workers wearing green trade union t-shirts and wielding sticks, chanted and danced, while some of the widows fought back tear as a roll call of the dead was read out.

The ruling African National Congress did not attend the event, which it said had become politicised when organisers invited a militant mining union and opposition leaders to speak.

With many ANC members serving on the boards of mining firms and the government firmly defending police tactics, observers say members of the party may not have been welcome.

"It's guilty conscience, that is why they are not here," said Tshenolo Tshenye, an assistant artisan and one of the mourners.

President Jacob Zuma, who launched a state inquiry into the shooting deaths but has studiously avoided becoming publically involved in it, was in Malawi ahead of a regional summit.

Populist firebrand Julius Malema, a former ANC youth leader who recently launched his own political party, tore into his former allies at the commemoration event, blaming the ANC and the owners of the Marikana platinum mine for the violence.

"Lonmin and ANC have killed our people. You have blood on your hands," Malema, sporting a revolutionary red beret, said to loud applause.

Lindile Mbukwana, 28-year old labourer, said the ANC's boycott "shows that our government doesn't care about us".

No one has been held responsible for the 34 deaths, and with fury still raw, police in riot vans kept their distance while helicopters circled overhead during the six-hour service.

"We want to know the truth," said Mzoxolo Magidwana, 24, who was shot eight times in last year's unrest. "Who sent the police to come and kill us?"

The day of violence at the Marikana mine is seen by many as the worst since apartheid in the country ended in 1994.

In the run-up to the killings at least 10 other people -- including two police officers -- died amid a highly charged work stoppage over wages at the mining firm.

Shortly after 1400 GMT on Friday, around the same time police opened fire at the foot of a hill a year ago, the crowd stood up to observe moment of silence.

"We've come here to take a stand, to say never again will peaceful actions be countered with violence," Pretoria bishop Jo Seoka told the solemn crowd.

Lonmin boss Magara said the London-listed firm would pay for the schooling of the slain mineworkers' 147 children.

Many of those present said the low wages and poor living standards that sparked the upwelling of anger a year ago remain unchanged.

"These people died for nothing," said Gabriel Shakhane, 42, a migrant miner from Lesotho.

The Lonmin-sponsored commemoration event was organised by a group linked to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has fought a sometimes bloody battle for power with the ANC-allied National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Several assassinations have taken place over the last year, with union leaders from both sides dying amid the battle for supremacy.

AMCU's leader Joseph Mathunjwa, who had invited NUM's leaders to attend, said the event was "not about politicking".

But at the 11th hour, NUM announced that it would stay away because the anniversary has been "hijacked", shredding hopes that the day could be a way to mend ties.

"Even as we are remembering victims we are quite frankly messing with their memories by playing politics with the commemoration," said political commentator Eusebius McKaiser.

© 2013 AFP

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