Johannesburg: Julius Malema, the former president of the African National Congress youth wing, on Saturday said that South African police had no right to fire the live bullets that killed 34 miners this week.
“They had no right to shoot,” Malema said, even if the miners had opened fire first.
Malema is the first politician to address the miners at the site during a more than weeklong saga in which 10 people were killed before Thursday’s shootings — including two police officers butchered to death and two mine security guards whom strikers burned alive in their vehicle. He said he had come because the government had turned its back on the strikers.
Malema arrived as family members continued to hunt for loved ones missing since Thursday’s shootings. Women said they did not know if their husbands and sons were among the dead, or among the 78 wounded or some 256 arrested by police on charges from public violence to murder.
Strikers complained earlier that President Jacob Zuma had not come to hear their side of the story when he flew to the Marikana platinum mine on Friday, cutting short his part in a regional summit in neighbouring Mozambique so that he could visit wounded miners in the hospital.
Zuma said he was organising a commission of inquiry to get to the truth about the shootings.
Malema charged some top-ranking ANC members had shares in the Lonmin PLC platinum mine and implied that they had no interest in seeing miners earn higher wages. Some 3,000 drilling operators at the mine, 70 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, have been demanding an increase from the minimum wage of R5,500 (USD 690) a month to R12,500 (USD 1,560).
Malema called for Zuma and his police minister to resign or back the striking miners’ wage demands — a call that brought cheers from the rally.
“President Zuma presided over the massacre of our people,” Malema said.
South Africans are in shock over the killings. The police said they acted to save their lives after a group of miners armed mainly with machetes and clubs charged at them, and at least one miner shot at them.
Police responded with volleys of automatic gunfire and pistols.
Video replayed by TV stations reminded South Africans of apartheid-era scenes of white police officers opening fire on black protesters. This time the police were black, but the scene has South Africans debating the failure of the ANC to deliver on basic promises to provide better lives with homes, jobs, health and education.
The Lonmin miners live in corrugated iron shacks without running water or electricity. People like the strikers ask why their government, running Africa’s richest nation, has not been able to improve their lot nearly 20 years after the ouster of apartheid.
Britain’s Foreign Office on Saturday supported Zuma’s call for an inquiry into the shootings.
(With Agency inputs)