'Untold pain': Zuma calls for peace ahead of Marikana anniversary

On August 16 2012, 34 miners were shot dead in a clash with police. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

On August 16 2012, 34 miners were shot dead in a clash with police. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma called for reflection to restore peace in South Africa's mining industry on Wednesday, days before the anniversary of police shooting dead strikers in the Marikana tragedy.

Friday marks a year after police opened fire on thousands of strikers at platinum producer Lonmin's mine north-west of Johannesburg that killed 34 and injured 78 people.

Two days before the commemoration, the firm recognised the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which led the wage strike, as its official majority union.

"The incident [on August 16 2012] in particular shocked the whole country and caused untold pain and numbness amongst all South Africans," Zuma said in a statement.

"It was a tragic and sad loss of life," he added. "We must all resolve to do everything possible to prevent a repeat of similar incidents."

Demands for wage increases sparked last year's wildcat strikes.

Workers flocked to join the Amcu, abandoning the once-dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in droves after workers accused it of protecting the mine management's interests rather than that of labourers'.

Amcu now represents 70% of Lonmin's 27 000 employees, stealing the majority position from the NUM, which is left with 20% of the membership.

The August shooting was described as the worst police brutality since the end of apartheid two decades ago.

In the preceding week, at least 10 people, including two police officers, were killed in violence at the mine.

Following the massacre, strikes spread quickly across the platinum industry and some gold mines, bringing an economic lifeblood to a standstill for months.

Mine stoppages in 2012 cost South Africa R15.3-billion.

More killings
In the year since the bloodbath, the unions' struggle for supremacy and ensuing benefits left a trail of bodies in its wake.

At least eight prominent members from both Amcu and the NUM have been murdered, the latest victim a local NUM leader who was gunned down in front of her house on Monday.

"What is happening in Marikana does not only disrupt the community there, it disrupts economic growth," said police commissioner Riah Phiyega launching a crime combating initiative in the town on Wednesday.

At least 13 murders occurred in the area in recent months, she added.

Amcu's recognition as majority organisation seemed auspicious to calm hostilities in Marikana two days before the memorial of a massacre that has seen little retribution.

The Farlam commission, the inquiry Zuma set up to probe the killings, is yet to conclude its work and lawyers representing wounded workers have pulled out over lack of funding.

'A new era'
Meanwhile, Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara said the company's agreement with Amcu "signals a new era", vowing that "we'll put all we can to ensure peace and stability".

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa urged a partnership to end acrimony between mine managers and labourers.

"We acknowledge that without cooperation we are all losers and that as leaders, we must find a way to ensure we can move forward together in peace and stability," he said.

Labour analyst Daniel Silke believes that Amcu's recognition will give it a sense of accomplishment, but won't stop the NUM, an affiliate of alliance member Cosatu, from reclaiming its position.

"In the short term, I think it's positive on the mines," said Silke.

Zuma urged unity in mining "so as to create an environment conducive to development".

"Workers and managers must go to work without fear that anyone would harm them. Workers must be free to exercise their Constitutional right to join any trade union of their choice," he added.

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