As many as 44 people may have died during six days of violence at a South African platinum mine, according to international press reports.
A statement from Lonmin, owner of the Marikana mine in the North West Province, said that eight workers and two policemen died in the first five days of armed confrontations, which began Aug. 10 when 3,000 drill operators from a wildcat union walked off their jobs. The strikers are reportedly affiliated with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, a new union whose job action put the group at odds with the more established National Union of Miners. Lonmin blamed “inter-union violence” for the first round of deaths.
But the body count rose dramatically on Aug. 16, when South African police opened fire on demonstrators, with some estimating that as many as 34 more people may have been killed, with dozens more injured. Press accounts say it was not clear which side fired first.
The clash between police and workers is considered South Africa’s worst violence since the end of apartheid, and the gruesome footage of the shootings has played endlessly on the news there, prompting calls for an inquiry.
“We are shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence,” said the country’s president, Jacob Zuma, in a statement. “We call upon the labor movement and business to work with government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further.”
London-based Lonmin, considered the world’s third largest producer of platinum, issued a statement from chairman Roger Phillimore that said “we deeply regret the further loss of life in what is clearly a public order rather than labor relations associated matter.”