South Africa mourning upended by fiery politician

Julius Malema was applauded when he said the government has not intervened in the mines "because our leaders are involved in these mines”.

Updated: Aug 24, 2012, 09:28 AM IST

Marikana: A fiery politician cast out of the ruling party on 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 sombre 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 kilometres 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 (USD 1,560).

The poorest 10 percent of the population shares 1.1 billion rand (USD 137.5 million) while the country`s richest 10 percent has 381 billion (nearly USD 48 billion), the Congress of South African Trade Unions noted on 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 (USD 700) though researchers who work with miners say they make at least 10,000 rand (USD 1,250).