Mine "bloodbath" shocks post-apartheid South Africa

Fri Aug 17, 2012 2:11pm EDT
 
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By Jon Herskovitz

MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - The police killing of 34 striking platinum miners in the bloodiest security operation since the end of white rule cut to the quick of South Africa's psyche on Friday, with searching questions asked of its post-apartheid soul.

Newspaper headlines screamed "Bloodbath", "Killing Field" and "Mine Slaughter", with graphic photographs of heavily armed white and black police officers walking casually past the bloodied corpses of black men lying crumpled in the dust.

The images, along with Reuters TV footage of officers opening up with automatic weapons on a small group of men in blankets and t-shirts at Lonmin's Marikana platinum plant, rekindled uncomfortable memories of South Africa's racist past.

Police chief Riah Phiyega confirmed 34 dead and 78 injured in Thursday's shootings after officers moved against 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes and sticks at the mine, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

A somber-looking President Jacob Zuma, who cut short a trip to Mozambique for a regional summit because of the violence, travelled to Marikana and announced he had ordered an official inquiry into what he called the "shocking" events.

"This is unacceptable in our country which is a country where everyone feels comfortable, a country with a democracy that everyone envies," he said in a statement read at a news conference. He did not take questions.

Phiyega, a former banking executive appointed to lead the police force only in June, said officers acted in self-defense against charging, armed assailants at Marikana.

"The police members had to employ force to protect themselves," she said, noting that two policemen had been hacked to death by a mob at the mine on Tuesday.   Continued...

 
A policeman (R) fires at protesting miners outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 16, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko