South Africa's mine massacre town sees little change three years on

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 26, 2015 6:31 AM

By Zandi Shabalala

MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - Almost three years after South African police shot 34 striking miners dead outside platinum producer Lonmin's Marikana mine, little has changed in this hardscrabble town that has become a symbol of post-apartheid hardship and inequities.

Cows and pigs root through litter-strewn dirt roads that snake past corrugated iron shacks - a picture of grinding poverty atop one of the world's wealthiest mineral deposits.

A long-awaited probe into the slayings, unveiled on Thursday by President Jacob Zuma, found Lonmin "did not respond appropriately" to the escalating violence during a wildcat strike in August of 2012.

Though the report slammed Lonmin for failing to comply with its social and housing obligations, few in Marikana felt it would make much difference.

Labor tensions in South Africa's mines continue, stemming in part from squalid living conditions that have persisted two decades after the end of apartheid.

"I understand that the report is out but it's not making me very happy. Nothing has changed here," said Samkelo Mkhize, 33, a former Lonmin miner.

"People were killed that day, and the government admits that they did something wrong but they don't act (as if) they will do something to change it," he said.

The commission, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, found "Lonmin's failure to comply with the housing obligations under the Social and Labor Plans should be drawn to the attention of the Department of Mineral Resources."

It further said the department "should take steps to enforce the performance of these obligations by Lonmin."

Mining companies in South Africa are required to meet a number of social requirements aimed at community and employee upliftment. But Lonmin may be hard pressed to meet such demands in the face of soaring costs and falling prices.

Lonmin's share price was down 3.5 percent on Friday to 3-1/2 month lows. Platinum's spot price is below $1,100 an ounce, some 25 percent lower than August 16, 2012, when police opened fire on the wildcat strikers.

Lonmin said in a statement that it has focused on "living conditions and employee indebtedness, two burning issues that we believe will make a profound impact on the wellbeing of our employees. Much work has been done in this regard."

But families of Lonmin employees in the grim shantytown the edge of Marikana, 120 kms (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, say much more needs to be done.

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"Nothing has changed, we have no roads. If it was raining you could not even drive in here. This is a mine but we are living in shacks," Bongiwe Gumede, 30, a mother of three who said her husband was a Lonmin miner.

The commission also blamed police and unions for the vortex of violence that saw 10 people killed, including police and security guards hacked to death, before miners were slain in a hail of bullets.

It found allegations that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had used his influence to trigger the police action were "groundless". Ramaphosa, seen as the potential successor to Zuma, was a non-executive director at Lonmin during the violence, which was rooted in a turf war between rival unions.

(Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Sophie Walker)