Brutal shooting leaves shock
killing of 34 raises questions about apartheid
CAPE TOWN — 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 today, 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 television footage of a phalanx of officers opening up with automatic weapons on a small group of men in blankets and tee-shirts, rekindled uncomfortable memories of South Africa’s racist past.
Police chief Riah Phiyega confirmed 34 dead and 78 injured after officers moved in against 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes and sticks and massed on a rocky outcrop at the mine, 100 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg.
Phiyega, a former banking executive who was only appointed to lead the police force in June, said officers had acted in self-defence against charging, armed assailants at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum plant.
“The police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group,” she told a news conference, noting that two policemen had been hacked to death by a mob at the mine on Tuesday.
However, the South African Institute of Race relations likened the incident to the 1960 Sharpeville township massacre near Johannesburg, when apartheid police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, killing more than 50.
“Obviously the issues that have led to this are not the same as the past, but the response and the outcome is very similar,” research manager Lucy Holborn told Reuters.
In a front page editorial, the Sowetan newspaper questioned what had changed since 1994, when Nelson Mandela overturned three centuries of white domination to become South Africa’s first black president.
“It has happened in this country before where the apartheid regime treated black people like objects,” the paper, named after South Africa’s biggest black township, said. “It is continuing in a different guise now.”
President Jacob Zuma cut short a visit to a regional summit in neighbouring Mozambique to head to the mine. Zuma, who faces an internal leadership election in his ruling African National Congress in December, said he was “shocked and dismayed” at the violence, but made no comment on the police behaviour. (Reuters)