x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mourning and anger at South African miners' funerals

Thousands of South Africans take in bloodiest police action since apartheid ended in 1994.

Members from a local church mourn on a hill near a site where miners were killed during clashes at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine.
Members from a local church mourn on a hill near a site where miners were killed during clashes at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine.

MARIKANA, South Africa // Christian hymns sung in Zulu and Xhosa rang out from under two white funeral tents near the site of South Africa's bloodiest police action since apartheid ended in 1994.

"We are shocked as a nation about what happened. None of us ever thought it would happen again," the Anglican bishop Johannes Seoka told the thousands of people gathered near the Marikana platinum mine owned by Lonmin.

Police gunned down 34 miners one week ago during a wildcat strike that had already left eight other workers and two policemen dead.

After the bishop's remarks, the crowd burst into an apartheid-era Zulu funeral song, "Senzeni na", which means, "What have we done?"

"Police and soldiers, what have we done to be killed?" the crowd sang.

Crowds spilled out into the scorched, dusty fields outside, listening to hymns and prayers, in the sweltering heat and opening umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun. Women wrapped in blankets wept, and mourners placed flowers at the scene. Other memorials took place around the country, including in central Johannesburg.

"Such a killing of people, of children, who haven't done anything wrong and they didn't have to die this way," said Baba Goloza, whose two sons died.

He blamed Lonmin for not taking care of its workers at the mine, north-west of Johannesburg. Lonmin and the nearby Impala platinum mine closed to allow workers to attend the memorial.

Many of the victims were migrant workers whose bodies have already returned to their home villages.

Police kept their distance as tensions still ran high among workers, with security remarkably lighter than the heavy forces deployed here for more than a week.

Notably absent were politicians, who kept away to allow religious leaders to conduct the services.

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, who met with miners on Wednesday, was in Pretoria where he named a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the killings.

The investigation will cover mining company Lonmin, the rival unions the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the National Union of Mineworkers, the government, the police and any individuals involved in the deadly conflict.

The retired appeals court judge Ian Farlam will head the three-person commission. The wide-ranging inquiry was given four months to complete its investigation and another month to submit its report.

The commission will look not only at security issues, but also at broader concerns about labour policies and working conditions, Mr Zuma said.