News cameras captured horrific images of riot police gunning down dozens of striking workers at a South African platinum mine yesterday, in a "bloodbath" that recalls some of the worst of that country's apartheid-era protests. Government sources confirmed that at least 34 protesters were killed in the deadliest police incident since white rule of the country ended almost 20 years ago.
Yesterday's shooting was not the first violent incident at the Marikana mine since about 3,000 workers went on strike last Friday, demanding pay raises that they say had been promised but not received. At least ten people had already been killed as workers who attempted to cross the lines were attacked and two police officers were reportedly murdered by angry mobs on Monday. Then on Thursday morning, the company that owns the mine had threatened to fire all the workers unless they returned to their shifts, insisting that the the strike was illegal.
All of that tension contributed to the situation on Thursday when police surrounded and cornered the miners, many of whom were carrying clubs and machetes. News crews on the scene captured the moment when it appears that a few dozen of protesters rushed the police line and the officers opened fire with automatic weapons. When the dust clears, a unknown number of bodies can be seen on the ground. Warning: The footage below (via Al Jazeera) might be disturbing to some.
South Africans were shocked by the images which were displayed on newspaper front pages and replayed endlessly on television. The strike is being led by rock drillers, who hold the toughest and most dangerous jobs in mining, but it quickly becoming a symbol for all that is troubling South Africa, where most of the black population continues to struggle amid poverty and violence. An editorial in the Sowetan newspaper said, "the value of human life, especially that of the African, continues to be meaningless."
Shares of Lonmin, the mining company that owns the mine plummeted on Friday, as production has come almost to a complete halt. South Africa hold more than 80 percent of the world's platinum reserves.