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S.Africa’s Zuma urges peace on Marikana anniversary

President Jacob Zuma called for reflection to restore peace in South Africa’s mining industry Wednesday, days before the first anniversary of police shooting dead strikers in the Marikana tragedy.

Friday marks a year after police opened fire on thousands of strikers at platinum producer Lonmin’s mine northwest of Johannesburg which killed 34 and injured 78 people.

Two days before the commemoration the firm has recognised radical labour group AMCU, which led the wage strike, in an attempt to ease simmering inter-union tensions on the platinum belt.

“The incident of the 16th (of August) in particular shocked the whole country and caused untold pain and numbness amongst all South Africans,” Zuma said in a statement.

“It was a tragic and sad loss of life,” he added.

“We must all resolve to do everything possible to prevent a repeat of similar incidents.”

Demands for higher salaries sparked last year’s wildcat strikes.

Workers flocked to join the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), abandoning the once-dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in droves because it was perceived to protect the mine management’s interests rather than that of labourers.

AMCU now represents 70 percent of Lonmin’s 27,000 employees, stealing the majority position from NUM, which is left with 20 percent of the membership.

The August shooting was described as the worst police brutality since the end of apartheid two decades ago.

But in the preceding week at least 10 people, including two policemen, were killed in clashes between the workers.

Following the massacre strikes spread quickly across the platinum industry and some gold mines, bringing an economic lifeblood to a standstill for months.

Mine stoppages in 2012 cost Africa’s largest economy 15.3 billion rand ($1.2 billion, 1.5 billion euro).

In the year since the bloodbath the union struggle for supremacy and ensuing benefits left a trail of bodies in its wake.

At least eight prominent members from both AMCU and NUM have been murdered, the latest victim a local NUM leader who was gunned down in front of her house on Monday.

Most victims were NUM members, and attackers periodically threatened the NUM to leave the mine.

“What is happening in Marikana does not only disrupt the community there, it disrupts economic growth,” said police commissioner Riah Phiyega launching a crime combating initiative in the town on Wednesday.

At least 13 murders occurred in the area in recent months, she added.

AMCU’s recognition as majority organisation seemed auspicious to calm hostilities in Marikana two days before the memorial of a massacre which has seen little retribution.

An inquiry Zuma set up to probe the killings is yet to conclude its work and lawyers representing wounded workers have pulled out over lack of funding.

The agreement “signals a new era”, according to Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara, who vowed that “we’ll put all we can to ensure peace and stability”.

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa urged a partnership to end acrimony between mine managers and labourers.

“We acknowledge that without cooperation we are all losers and that as leaders, we must find a way to ensure we can move forward together in peace and stability,” he said.

Labour analyst Daniel Silke believes that AMCU’s recognition will give it a sense of accomplishment, but won’t stop the NUM from reclaiming its position.

“In the short term, I think it’s positive on the mines,” said Silke.

Zuma urged unity in mining “so as to create an environment conducive to development”.

“Workers and managers must go to work without fear that anyone would harm them. Workers must be free to excercise their Constitutional right to join any trade union of their choice,” he added.