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South Africa: after the death of 34 strikers, miners return to work under threat

Translated Thursday 23 August 2012, by Elaine Scott and reviewed by Bill Scoble

On Monday, at the site of the Marikana platinum mine in South Africa, police were omnipresent. After having shot down 34 strikers with automatic weapons, officers supervise the miners as they begin to return to work, threatened with being sacked.

“The workers are arriving slowly but surely and the level of attendance is now at 27%. However, it is difficult to know if the strikers have actually returned”, declared a spokesperson for the mine owner, Lonmin. Management had warned strikers on Saturday that if they had not returned to work by Monday they would be fired, but then delayed this ultimatum until Tuesday. “After consulting with several union representatives today (Monday), the firm can announce that miners who were illegally striking and who have not returned to work this morning will not be dismissed, they have been granted one more day in the light of current circumstances”, explained the spokesperson for the firm.

Massacre in the name of self-defence

And the circumstances in question are tragic. 34 out of 300 striking workers were killed on Thursday when police used automatic weapons against miners armed with machetes and iron bars. 78 others were seriously injured and 10 more had already been killed earlier in the week. If the police are timidly explaining that officers were forced to protect themselves, the death toll suggests a massacre. This weekend, several hundred striking miners assembled calmly a few metres away from the carnage. The strikes are based on rivalry between unions. The miners demanding a pay-rise belong to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, a newly-formed movement which is in opposition to the NUM, the National Union of Mineworkers, the main union in South Africa and linked to the ANC, the African National Congress.

President Jacob Zuma immediately announced the opening of an official inquest. On Monday, more than 250 people started to appear before a tribunal to answer to charges such as murder, attempted murder and assault and battery.

Reaction of the PCF (French Communist Party): The massacre of 34 miners by police in South Africa generates strong emotion. The French Communist Party expresses its indignation and horror after such violence towards workers living in misery and seeking fair wages and better living conditions […] The PCF reaffirms its solidarity with all political forces and unions in South Africa in their fight against inequality and for progress and social justice in a true state of law.

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