South Africa mourns Marikana ‘tragedy’

20 August 2012

President Jacob Zuma has called on South Africans to come together as a nation as the country mourns the deaths of 44 people, including two police officers and 34 mine workers, in violent clashes in Marikana outside Rustenburg, North West province last week.

The President cut short his participation in an SADC Summit in Mozambique to return to South Africa on Friday after 34 protesting mine workers were killed and scores injured during clashes with police on Thursday.

Addressing the media following a visit to the mining town of Marikana on Friday, Zuma reminded South Africans that they had come together to overcome difficult moments in the country’s past.

Week of mourning declared

Flanked by other Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, police management and provincial leadership, Zuma said it was time to grieve together so that the healing and rebuilding process can begin.

On Sunday, the Presidency said that Zuma had declared this week a period of mourning for the 44 people killed last week. From Monday to Sunday, flags will fly at half-mast at all flag stations in South Africa and missions outside the country.

Zuma has also declared Thursday as the official day for memorial services to be held across the country to mourn and promote a violence-free society.

“The nation is in shock and in pain,” Zuma said in a statement. “We must this week reflect on the sanctity of human life and the right to life as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic.

“We must avoid finger-pointing and recrimination. We must unite against violence from whatever quarter. We must reaffirm our belief in peace, stability and order and in building a caring society free of crime and violence.”

Tensions in the Marikana area have been high in the past weeks following a strike by Lonmin Platinum mine employees and subsequent clashes between rival unions.

Apart from the 34 protestors killed on Thursday, 10 others were killed – including two police officers – in nearly a week of fighting between rival worker factions.

Deaths ‘tragic and regrettable’

Zuma said the events of the past week had been saddening and dismaying, adding that the deaths of the mine workers and members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) were tragic and regrettable.

“These events are not what we want to see or want to become accustomed to in a democracy that is bound by the rule of law and where we are creating a better life for all our people,” he said.

Such incidents were not expected, particularly in a country where there was a high level of organisation in the labour movement, the President said.

Turning to grief of the families, Zuma said the thoughts of all South Africans and government were with the families of those who had lost their lives and those recovering in hospitals.

“The events of the last few days have unfortunately been visited upon a nation that is hard at work addressing the persistent challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. We undertake this work in conditions of peace and stability, working with all sectors in our country.”

He assured South Africans that government was fully committed to ensuring the country remained a peaceful, stable, productive and thriving nation that was focused on improving the quality of life for all its people.

Commission of inquiry

It was against this backdrop that the truth of what had happened at Marikana had to be uncovered, Zuma said, announcing that he had decided to institute a commission of inquiry.

“We must get to the truth. This is unacceptable in our country … This is shocking,” he said.

An inquiry would help get to the “real cause” of what had transpired.

“However, today is not an occasion for blame, finger pointing or recrimination. Today challenges us to restore calm and share the pain of the affected families and communities … It is a day for us to mourn together as a nation. It is also a day to start rebuilding and healing,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa earlier in the day sent his condolences to the families of the victims.

Mthethwa and National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega, accompanied by North West Premier Thandi Modise and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, visited the police officers who have been monitoring the protests at Lonmin.

SANews.gov.za, with additional reporting by SAinfo