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MARIKANA, SOUTH AFRICA – South Africans held a memorial service on Thursday at a 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 opened fire on 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 in 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.
President Jacob Zuma, speaking in Pretoria, named a panel to look into the actions of Lonmin, the police and the unions engaged in a deadly rivalry – the long-established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
In the days before the mass shootings, 10 people were killed in a turf war between the unions, including two police officers and a union shop steward hacked to death with machetes.
Members of both unions and their families, as well as ruling ANC officials, attended the nearly five-hour memorial service, which included uplifting songs and prayers for the dead.
But the sombre and grieving tone of the memorial service at the mine was shattered by Julius Malema, who was expelled in April for sowing disunity in Mr. Zuma’s African National Congress. Mr. Malema was applauded when he said the government has not intervened in the mines “because our leaders are involved in these mines.” He said that Mr. Zuma’s foundation and other ANC leaders have shares in the mines. “Our government has become a pig that is eating its children,” charged Mr. Malema.
After the service, some 2,000 AMCU workers wearing t-shirts emblazoned with party slogans climbed the hill where many had come under police fire a week ago, singing union songs and chanting their demands for wage increases. A police helicopter kept watch overhead.
The union feud exposed deadly levels of anger about low wages and what is seen as political favouritism in Africa’s biggest economy. The powerful NUM has been a launchpad to political power for several senior officials at the African National Congress (ANC) – the former liberation movement that has held power since the end of apartheid.
The carnage at Marikana has also highlighted the ANC’s 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. Mr. Zuma’s political rivals have accused his government of poor policing and caring more for corporate interests than workers’ rights. The report from the investigative panel is due a month after he faces a party vote where he seeks re-election as its leader.
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