South Africans mourn victims of platinum mine carnage

Thu Aug 23, 2012 7:13pm IST

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* Memorial at "Hill of Horror' where police killed 34 miners

* Zuma faces political pressure over pay, policing

* Industry worries about contagion

By David Dolan

MARIKANA, South Africa, Aug 23 (Reuters) - South Africans held a memorial service on Thursday at a platinum mine where police shot dead 34 strikers, bloodshed that revived memories of apartheid-era violence and laid bare workers' anger over enduring inequalities since the end of white rule.

Some 500 people crammed into a marquee pitched at the platinum mine, near what has been dubbed the "Hill of Horror" where police shot dead 34 striking miners in the deadliest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994.

Crowds spilled out into the scorched, dusty fields outside, listening to hymns and prayers. Women wrapped in blankets wept and mourners placed flowers at the scene. Other memorials took place around the country, including downtown Johannesburg.

"Such a killing of people, of children, who haven't done anything wrong and they didn't have to die this way," said Baba Goloza whose two sons died. He blamed mine owner Lonmin for not taking care of its workers at its Marikana mine, northwest of Johannesburg

Violence between rival labour unions exposed deadly levels of anger about low wages and what is seen as political favouritism in Africa's biggest economy.

Ten people were killed in the turf war between rival unions, including two police officers and a union shop steward hacked to death with machetes.

The incident has highlighted the African National Congress's (ANC) failure to ease income disparity which remains among the worst in the world while many of its members are accused of using political connections to get rich.

RICH GROW RICHER

The powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), one of the rival groups at Lonmin, has been a launchpad to political power for several senior officials at the ANC - the former liberation movement that has held power since the end of apartheid.

ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, President Jacob Zuma's right-hand man, was an NUM leader before joining the party.

The NUM's rival, the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has sought support among workers who want more pay for their dangerous and dirty work, saying the NUM is not getting them a good deal and is too close to the mining companies - claims the NUM denies.

Zuma has set up a panel to investigate the killings but remains under attack from political rivals who accuse his government of poor policing and caring more for corporate interests than workers' rights.

Several miners expressed anger at government ministers for visiting earlier in the week in luxury cars, driving past shantytowns and garbage-strewn fields around the mine.

"They come here in big fancy cars and bodyguards. They know nothing about being poor," one miner said to his colleagues as they listened to speeches.

South Africa's per capita GDP is over $8,000 a year but nearly 40 percent of the population live on less than $3 a day. Miners' wages have risen but many struggle to support an average of eight to 10 dependents.

CONTAGION

Industry officials are worried the Marikana mine labour strife could spread around the country where mining accounts for about 6 percent of gross domestic product.

Anglo American Platinum, the world's top producer, said on Wednesday it had received a demand for a pay increase. World No.2 platinum firm Impala Platinum (Implats) on Thursday also warned that industrial action at could grow.

A violent six-week strike at Implats early this year sliced 21 percent off its full-year production and contributed to a drastic cut in its dividend.

Labour action by about 500 miners interrupted work at one shaft run by Royal Bafokeng Platinum on Wednesday, the company said.

"Foreign investors are asking if this is an indication of what we're going to see with much greater levels of industrial unrest," Nick Holland, chief executive of world no. 4 gold producer Gold Fields told Reuters.

Concerns about South Africa, which holds 80 percent of the known reserves of platinum, have helped drive the price of the metal, used in jewellery and for catalytic converters in cars, to its highest since early May.

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