Zuma rushes to scene of massacre as dead miners' widows rage

South African President ‘dismayed’ after 34 strikers killed – but pays tribute to police

Cape Town

The relatives of the 34 platinum miners killed during Thursday's South African police operation gathered outside a hospital yesterday in the hopes of obtaining news and answers.

But officials – police, politicians, employers and trade union leaders – seemed more concerned with managing the political and image fallout of the Marikana tragedy: a bloody three-minute barrage of automatic fire that shocked television viewers around the world as dozens of men armed with primitive weapons collapsed to the ground on a dusty hillside 60 miles north of Johannesburg.

President Jacob Zuma cancelled an appearance at a regional summit in Mozambique to visit Rustenburg yesterday evening. He said the country had been "saddened and dismayed by the events of the past few days". "Today is not for finger-pointing or blaming, today challenges us to restore calm and to share the pain of the affected," he added. He offered his "sincere condolences to all families who have lost loved ones" He also paid tribute to the police, who he said "are forced to intervene in difficult situations".

Last night, he said he had been briefed by police and local officials and that he would appoint a commission of inquiry into events. In a statement, he said: "It is clear there is something serious behind these happenings. This is unacceptable in a country in which everyone feels comfortable. This is a shocking thing. We do not know where it comes from and we have to address it.''

Trade unions and political parties sent condolences and demanded inquiries and arrests. But only civil society pressure groups outside the political mainstream called for demonstrations against the police's handling of the Marikana strike, or for answers from Lonmin, the London-listed owner of the mine. The African National Congress Youth League condemned the mainstream ANC's ''capitulation to capital'' but used the event chiefly to renew its demand for the nationalisation of mines.

The responses seemed a world away from the needs of the now widowed women who joined an impromptu demonstration outside Andrew Staffer Memorial Hospital in Marikana. The only information available to them seemed to be coming from hospital officials who came and went with lists of names and occasionally called in a worried relative.

The women carried placards with messages directed at the mine's owner, Lonmin, and the government. One read: "What sort of government kills its people?" Another stated: "Piega (police commissioner Riah Phiyega) you are celebrating your position by the blood of our families." Several of the women demanded that the government and Lonmin pay the funeral expenses of the dead, many of whom are believed to be from Lesotho – the country which traditionally provides rock-drillers to South African mines. "We don't have money so government should pay," said Mmatshepiso Mohlomi. She and others were unsure of the whereabouts of their husbands or relatives.

At an earlier, elaborate, damage-limitation press conference by the police, Ms Phiyega told reporters she took responsibility for giving the officers the order to open fire. ''As commissioner, I gave police the responsibility to execute the task they needed to do."

She said 259 people had been arrested and six firearms recovered. At the briefing in Rustenburg, police showed slides aimed at justifying tactics that have not been seen in South Africa since the end of Apartheid in 1994. The PowerPoint presentation resembled the kind of propaganda troops might be shown before an assault: pictures of two police officers who were hacked to death on Monday, and an aerial photograph showing naked miners engaged in a ritual with a sangoma (witchdoctor) to give them extraordinary powers. Ms Phiyega said: "The police had to use force to protect themselves from the group. The militant group stormed towards the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons. Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force. This is no time for blaming, this is no time for finger-pointing. It is a time for us to mourn."

For its part, Lonmin last night issued a statement through its chief financial officer, Simon Scott: "On behalf of the whole company I would like to express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of all those employees who have lost their lives, not only in the events of Thursday but also in the days leading up to it, and of course to the families and colleagues of the two South African Police Service officers who died trying to protect others," he said.

Conflicting versions abounded over exactly what happened in the moments before police opened fire on Thursday afternoon with live bullets. By that time, 10 people – including the two police officers – had already died in clashes between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu).

Police had on Wednesday negotiated with 3,000 rock-drillers gathered on a hillside above the mine. It was not clear which union they belonged to. But they were angry Lonmin had agreed to increase the salaries of a group of rock-drillers despite the existence of a bargaining agreement with a year to run. Amcu had allegedly let it be known it would do more than the NUM to achieve a similar three-fold pay rise for anyone that joined it. Wednesday's talks – to which Lonmin did not send a representative – ended with the police demanding the miners disarm within 24 hours. Early on Wednesday, a senior police officer was reported as saying ''this is D-Day, unfortunately''.

As night fell yesterday, several hundred men had again gathered near the rocky outcrop where the battle took place on Thursday. A police helicopter was circling overhead. According to some reports, the men had earlier held a meeting and resolved to return and confront the police. But they had been kept at bay by razor wire.

Nearby, a dozen of the women from the hospital had gathered again. "The men are showing the police that they are not afraid of them and that they don't have respect for them anymore," said Mrs Mohlomi.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York