, South Africa, Sept 5 – Thousands of striking workers singing and carrying sticks marched on a South African mine Wednesday, as police were accused of shooting miners in cold blood during a crackdown that killed 34.
Armoured police trucks and two police helicopters kept watch as around 3,000 miners arrived at the entrance of a shaft owned by Lonmin, the world’s number three platinum producer, where a deadly strike is now in its fourth week.
Mine manager Jan Thirion said worker representatives had threatened that “if we don’t leave here at one o’clock (1100 GMT) they will come and burn down the shaft, burn down cars and kill us”.
“We want to talk peace, they want to talk war,” he told reporters.
Police had escorted five worker representatives to speak to Thirion through a perimeter fence where he was flanked by armed security guards.
But workers dispersed peacefully after their deadline passed, singing President Jacob “Zuma is a fool, we are ruled by stupid people” as they headed back to where police shot 34 people dead on August 16.
The workers have refused to return to work until the company bows to wage demands, with one placard saying “Lonmin must decide to give us money or close”, as a fresh round of mediated talks kicked off in the morning.
Some carried a picture of a dead miner who will be buried this weekend, shocked by his death as he left the site with only a bullet wound in the leg.
“We believe police finished him. We consider him a hero like Chris Hani,” said worker representative Xolani Mzuzu, referring to the anti-apartheid icon who was gunned down a year before South Africa headed into democracy.
The shooting shocked the world with its echoes of apartheid-era police brutality.
A local media report raised further questions about whether police were acting in self-defence, as they have claimed after the shooting escalated from a wildcat strike that had already killed 10, including two police officers.
Workers who were released from detention, after prosecutors dropped murder charges against them for the deaths of their colleagues, said officers had gunned down surrendering strikers and boasted of the killings.
“There was a Sotho man whom 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,” Lungisile Lutshetu told The Star newspaper.
Lutshetu said officers had “boasted about how many people they have shot and how they still wanted to kill more”.
The police force and its watchdog body said they could not comment on the allegations as the shootings were being investigated by a commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma, which has until January to make its report.
“We will hand over the evidence we’ve collected to the commission,” Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini told AFP.
Workers have refused to return to the job at the mine, which has been crippled since August 10, until Lonmin gives in to their wage demands.
London-listed Lonmin, whose shares dropped Wednesday, reported 4.2 percent attendance across all its shafts.
The strike has raised fears of unrest spilling over into other mining sectors and has also become a battleground for rival political and labour factions.
The government-mediated talks, which resumed Wednesday between the mine management, unions and non-unionised worker representatives, aimed at finding a peace deal to get production at the crippled mine back on track.