Mine "bloodbath" shocks post-apartheid S.Africa

Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:16pm GMT
 

By Jon Herskovitz

MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - 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 on Friday, 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 t-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 km (60 miles) 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.   Continued...

Policemen look on as women carrying placards chant slogans in protest against the killing of miners by South African police on Thursday, outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 17, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
 
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