34 South African Miners Gunned Down by Police

President Jacob Zuma has announced an inquiry into the tragedy.

Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images
Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

Thirty-four people were killed and at least 78 people were injured when police opened fire on striking platinum miners on Thursday, BBC News reports. South African President Jacob Zuma said he was saddened and dismayed at the events but discouraged “finger-pointing.” On Friday he announced an inquiry that he promises will uncover the facts as well as “derive the necessary lessons.”

BBC World Service Africa editor Martin Plaut provided the following analysis:

This strike was sparked by a demand for better wages. And – armed with spears and machetes – strikers were in no mood for compromise.

But it goes much deeper than that. The traditional union in the area, the NUM, is a key ally of the African National Congress. Their backing is critical for President Jacob Zuma in his fight to retain his position in the ANC’s party elections this December.

Miners accuse their leaders of abandoning their grassroots concerns, focussing instead on politics. So they turned to an alternative union to fight their corner. But — as so often happens in South Africa — this dispute turned violent. Two police had been killed earlier in the week.

The 3,000 police who surrounded the hilltop on which a similar number of miners had gathered were determined not to join their dead comrades. It is in the culture of the force. As one former police commissioner said, they should “shoot to kill” without worrying about what happened after that.

Read more at BBC Africa.