NEW YORK (AP) — South Africa's president said Wednesday the mining unrest in his country that captured international attention following the police killing of 34 striking miners will be resolved through negotiation and is not a symptom of the pressing inequalities brimming to the surface nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid.
President Jacob Zuma told The Associated Press that the violence at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine in Marikana should not be viewed as "the kind of incident that will be a common occurrence in South Africa, because it's not."
"I know that some people feel that the picture was very bad — which is absolutely true — that maybe some people say this may be reminding us of the old days. But the difference is that during the apartheid system, where these kind of occurrences were very often, you had a wrong system which was a violent system," Zuma said. "This time we have a democratic country with a very clear constitution, where the circumstances are totally different than what it was during the apartheid days and you cannot therefore today think that this kind of action will happen again because we have got checks and balances in our democracy."
The trouble at the Lonmin mine began on Aug. 10 and ended up with 45 people dead. On Aug. 16 police opened fire on demonstrating strikers killing 34 of them and wounding 78 in the worst state violence since apartheid ended in 1994. It traumatized the nation of 48 million, raising questions about the how much the poorest of the poor have benefitted since the end of white rule.
While bloody 5-week strike at the Lonmin mine was resolved with workers gaining as much as 22 percent in pay hikes, strikes have now spread to other, mostly gold, mines around the country and workers are increasingly rejecting their own unions and choosing their own representatives to press demands directly with mining companies.
"What you see in other mines was, in fact, influenced by this particular strike and it has also been influenced by the manner in which the resolution has been undertaken, whereas the unions that were in the forefront in this case because of the circumstances were not necessarily in the forefront. So the workers, the churches everybody was participating in this and precisely because of what had happened I think you then had a kind of resolution that was taken that has influenced some other miners to go on strike," said Zuma, calling those strikes "illegal."
But he said he believed these new strikes would, like the Marikana strike, be resolved through negotiation and that would happen rather soon.
The strikes do pose a particularly thorny problem for Zuma, raising questions about his leadership just as he prepares for a crucial government party congress in December which will decide whether he gets another term as leader of Africa's richest economy.
Despite promises by the ruling African National Congress to redress the inequalities that remain in the wake of apartheid, the country has become the most unequal nation on Earth with only a handful of black billionaires joining a small white elite which continues to control the economy dominated by mineral resources and agriculture.
Zuma, however, denied the strikes revealed the startling inequalities that remain in post-apartheid South Africa, saying it was a longstanding problem that the government was working hard to address.
"From our point of view, whilst the inequalities are there we are dealing with them," Zuma said. "We are aware that it is a problem but it's not a problem that has arisen now. We are dealing with what has happened the legacy of apartheid and I think we've moved very far to address those kinds of questions."