S. African Miner Protest Shows Deep Conflicts

The police shooting of strikers reveals how money and power divide the country.

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The solution, he said, is complicated. He said the government should have intervened much sooner and held the unions and the mining company to account before the shootout happened. He also called for all parties to be open to the investigation and to show more accountability in the future.

South Africa is a nation starkly divided along economic lines. Expensive sports cars glide through Johannesburg’s potholed streets as crammed Toyota minibuses sputter along beside them. Half of the population lives below the poverty line. Some newspapers warned that the conflict could snowball, and others criticized top leaders for not showing sufficient leadership.

South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, has called for a week of mourning. The mining company has also relented on its initial stance, in which they gave striking workers a choice: Return to work or be fired. Workers said they plan to regroup. One protestor, who identified himself only as Siphiwo, told The Root that he and his colleagues would not back down.

Some residents of Wonderkop, a nearby town that lies in the shadow of the mine, said they’re struggling to understand what happened. One miner, who asked to only be identified by his first name, Thabo, said he was still traumatized because four or five of his friends were shot.

Many residents still didn’t know days later where their friends and relatives were — dead, in the hospital or among the more than 250 people arrested and facing charges ranging from destruction of property to murder. Daniel Modisenyane, 54, said he was “shocked” by the violence. He also said he believes police misconstrued miners’ rudimentary weapons as more of a threat than they were.

“Culturally speaking, some of us, you have various language groups and you have various ethnic groups, other cultures, they hold their knobkerrie, their [stick], whatever, like what is happening in [Afghanistan],” he told The Root. “In [Afghanistan], people are carrying long guns, you know, that is cultural. When something comes, well, you cannot be empty-handed, as you know. Not that I condone what has happened.”