South Africa mourning upended by fiery politician

A fiery politician cast out of the ruling party Thursday hijacked the main memorial service for 34 striking miners killed by police, to accuse President Jacob Zuma

Mine workers attend a memorial service at the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Police shot and killed 34 striking miners and wounded 78 last week. Demands for higher wages spread to at least two other mines, raising fears of further protests at more South African mines that provide most of the world's platinum. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

MARIKANA, South Africa (AP) — A fiery politician cast out of the ruling party Thursday hijacked the main memorial service for 34 striking miners killed by police, to accuse President Jacob Zuma's government of complicity in the shootings. Angry government ministers walked out.

Zuma did not attend any of the services. He called a news conference to announce a retired supreme court judge will head a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate "the facts and circumstances which gave rise to the use of force and whether this was reasonable and justifiable in the particular circumstances."

He announced a wide range of issues for the commission to investigate, including the role of London-registered Lonmin PLC, which owns the platinum mine where the violence was sparked by union rivalry.

The commission would look at Lonmin's conduct and report "whether the company, by act or omission, created an environment which was conducive to the creation of tension, labour unrest, disunity among its employees or other harmful conduct," Zuma said.

The somber and grieving tone of the memorial service at the mine was shattered by Julius Malema, who was expelled in April for sowing disunity in the African National Congress. 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 President Zuma's foundation and other ANC leaders have shares in the mines.

"Our government has become a pig that is eating its children," charged Malema.

Malema's outburst came after church leaders had urged people not to use the memorial service to score political points.

About a dozen Cabinet ministers left before they could address the crowd of more than 1,000 at the mine at Marikana, 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

Last week's shootings were the worst display of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994 and have thrown the spotlight on growing anger at South Africa's massive inequality, poverty and unemployment.

The violence unfolded as some 3,000 rock drill operators demanded a minimum wage of 12,500 rand ($1,560). The poorest 10 percent of the population shares 1.1 billion rand ($137.5 million) while the country's richest 10 percent has 381 billion (nearly $48 billion), the Congress of South African Trade Unions noted Thursday.

In a statement it claimed Lonmin's financial officer is paid 152 times as much as a rock drill operator at the mine. It claimed the operators earn only 5,600 rand ($700) though researchers who work with miners say they make at least 10,000 rand ($1,250).

The relative of a miner killed in last week's shootings said he wants to see some arrests.

"If it were me I'd want everyone who was involved in this incident including the mine managers to be arrested, the whole lot of them, because a person's life is not worth money," Ubuntu Akumelisine told the AP.

Mungiswa Mphumza, the sister of a dead miner from Eastern Cape, said she was at peace.

"We have accepted everything that has happened and we ask that the dead rest in peace, there is nothing that we can do at the moment, what has happened has happened. God takes what he likes," Mphumza said.

Roger Phillimore, chairman of Lonmin PLC mine company, also offered condolences to the the mourners.

"It is with huge sadness that I join with you to mourn the loss of so many of our colleagues. It is unquestionably the saddest loss in the history of this company," Philimore said.

This was the first time since the shooting that a high-ranking Lonmin official addressed the miners and their community.

Zuma had decreed a week of national mourning to honor all victims of violence in South Africa, which has which has one of the world's highest murder and rape rates.

In the past week, three orphan children were stoned to death, with a 12-year-old girl among them raped, and a pastor is on trial for allegedly raping and molesting nine children in his wife's nursery school.

At the mine, strikers who captured two police officers hacked them to death with machetes. Strikers also set ablaze a car carrying two mine security guards, burning them alive.

Another six people died in the week before police fired volleys of gunfire at a group of charging miners, killing 34 and wounding 78.

"This ongoing violence is a part of our national and collective shame and we should take this time to seriously reflect on the state of our society," Prof. Yunus Ballim of Witwatersrand University said before students and lecturers marched in memory of victims of violence.

On Wednesday, Zuma demanded that mine companies provide decent homes and sanitation for miners. He singled out one mining house where 666 workers share four toilets and four showers, according to the Star newspaper. He did not name the company.

Zuma warned that those who do not comply with the Mining Charter requiring adequate housing risk losing their licenses.

Lonmin, the mine where the violence happened, remained shut down to honor the day of mourning.
Associated Press
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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