Mine violence hits at South Africa political power nexus
By Jon Herskovitz
MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - The bloody protest by South African miners that ended in a hail of police gunfire and 34 deaths this week could also wound the ruling ANC and its main labor ally, laying bare workers' anger over enduring inequalities in Africa's biggest economy.
Thursday's shooting, bringing back memories of apartheid-era violence, underlined that after 18 years in power the African National Congress and its union partner have not been able to heal the fissures of income disparity, poverty and joblessness scarring the country.
The deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid has exposed grass roots discontent among the rank and file of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the country's biggest union that has been a training ground for ANC leadership and a staunch supporter of President Jacob Zuma.
"The NUM is all about politics. They have forgotten about the man in the mine shaft," said Lazarus Letsoele, one of the striking miners at the Lonmin Marikana mine, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
He escaped on Thursday when police opened fire on the strikers in what has been dubbed "the Marikana Massacre", prompting a government inquiry and a wave of soul-searching in post-apartheid South Africa.
Despite billions of dollars of spending by the ANC on poverty reduction and union friendly laws to protect workers exploited by the past white-minority regime, the gap between haves and have-nots is still one of the highest in the world.
Per capita GDP is over $8,000 a year but nearly 40 percent of the population lives on less than $3 a day.
At the Lonmin mine producing the precious metal platinum used in vehicle catalytic converters and jewelry, stray dogs pick over litter-strewn, wind-swept fields of dust near the clustered corrugated tin homes that are mining settlements. Continued...