MARIKANA, South Africa – (Reuters) – A year after South Africa’s bloodiest post-apartheid labour incident awoke the world to the potential for unrest in the country’s mines, the industry still suffers from worker poverty, pay disputes, shrinking profits and a violent union feud.
At Lonmin’s Marikana mine where 34 striking platinum workers were shot dead by police on August 16, 2012 in killings that shocked South Africa and the world, memorial services are planned for Friday by politicians, unions and civic leaders.
President Jacob Zuma, still facing criticism for his African National Congress (ANC) government’s handling of what has come to be known as the “Marikana massacre”, has led a solemn chorus of assurances that such bloodshed must never happen again.
“We must all resolve to do everything possible to prevent a repeat of similar incidents,” Zuma said in a statement listing government steps to keep the peace and improve conditions in the country’s mines, where recurring illegal strikes have badly dented Africa’s biggest economy over the last year.
On Friday, prayers will be offered at the rocky outcrop known as the “Hill of Horror” near the Marikana mine where the 34 strikers, many carrying clubs and spears, died in hail of police gunfire when officers moved to disperse their protest.
Plain white wooden crosses stand in memory of the dead.
As a government inquiry set up to establish responsibility for the killings drags on with no end in sight, in the hard-scrabble miners’ shanty settlements that surround the Marikana shafts, there are little visible signs of change.
Children still play in mounds of rubbish beside tin-roofed shacks, and jobless men dig trenches to divert rivulets of raw sewage away from homes.
With the shadow of the Marikana deaths still hanging over them, mining companies and fractious workers’ unions have squared off in another round of bitter bargaining over wages – their respective positions on salary hikes still miles apart.
Violence still stalks the mining shafts and communities as sporadic murders of union officials betray a membership turf war being waged between the mainstream National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its hardline challenger, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
“We are still waiting for the changes,” said Malusi King Danga, a 28-year-old Lonmin worker who was involved in the strike protest last year.
“It’s like we were killed for nothing, like we were jailed and beaten up for nothing,” he told Reuters.
An AMCU member, he spent three weeks in police custody last year on suspicion of inciting violence before being released with the charges dropped.
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