At the scene of South Africa's worst labor-related violence since 1994, a bloody protest at a platinum mine shocks the post-apartheid country.
Thousands of workers at the Marikana mine walked off the job on Aug. 10, demanding that their wages be tripled. For the past few days, workers have been occupying an outcropping of rock around the mine, demanding that those needs be met.
After things got out of control, police officers opened fire on miners earlier today, leaving 34 people dead and 78 wounded. Later on, South Africa's police commissioner defended the team's actions. Commissioner Riah Phiyega said the police struggled to contain the crowd of thousands of machete-carrying, angry miners.
“The militant group stormed towards the police firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons,” Commissioner Phiyega said. With great distraught, she said attempts to repel the crowd with rubber bullets, water cannons and stun grenades had failed.
Several news organizations captured footage of the reactions of the police, who appeared to fire upon a group of workers charging towards them.
Since the protests began, 10 others, including two police officers, have also died. Police have retrieved many of the machetes, cudgels, spears and a total of six guns from the protesters, including one that had been taken from a police officer who was brutally hacked to death earlier in the week.
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“This is no time for finger-pointing,” Phiyega said in a news conference. “It is a time for us to mourn the sad and black moment we experienced as a country.”
In a nation growing increasingly impatient with deep poverty, the government's iron-fisted response has South Africans questioning how far its come from the days when police of the apartheid government had opened fire on similar protests.
"Obviously the issues that have led to this are not the same as the past, but the response and the outcome is very similar," research manager Lucy Holborn told Reuters.
Despite promises of a better life for millions of poor black townships from the African National Congress (ANC), the organization still struggles to provide basic services to its people. The mining sector, in particular, has criticized the ANC for favoring big business and the “white monopoly capital.”
The striking miners demanding huge pay hikes feel the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a close ANC ally, has deserted them. As a result, many of the young workers—many of whom are barely literate—have turned to more radical solutions.
“There is a kind of desperation, a lack of hope and a resentment for the mining industry and the government,” John Capel of the Bench Marks Foundation, a research and advocacy organization that studies mining communities, told the New York Times. “We have been warning for years of these potential uprisings. People are angry.”
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has been challenging the 25-year dominance of the NUM, has been criticized for urging the striking miners. According to the AMCU, workers are angry and feel betrayed by the party that supposedly liberated them some 18 years ago.
"It has happened in this country before where the apartheid regime treated black people like objects," said the Sowetan newspaper, named after the country's biggest black township. "It is continuing in a different guise now."