JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African police opened fire Thursday on a crowd of striking workers at a platinum mine, leaving an unknown number of people injured and possibly dead. Motionless bodies lay on the ground in pools of blood.
Police moved in on striking workers who gathered near the Lonmin PLC mine Thursday afternoon after urging them to give up their weapons and go home to their hostels and shacks. Some did leave, though others carrying weapons began war chants and soon started marching toward the township near the mine, said Molaole Montsho, a journalist with the South African Press Association who was at the scene.
The police opened up with a water cannon first, then used stun grenades and tear gas to try and break up the crowd, Montsho said.
Suddenly, a group of miners rushed through the scrub and underbrush at a line of police officers. Images broadcast by private television broadcaster e.tv showed officers immediately opening fire, with miners falling to the ground. Dozens of shots were fired by police armed with automatic rifles and pistols.
The gunfire from weapons apparently on full automatic ended with police officers shouting: “Cease fire!” By that time, bodies were lying in the dust, some pouring blood. Another image showed some miners, their eyes wide, looking in the distance at heavily armed police officers in riot gear.
It was an astonishing development in a country that has been a model of stability since racist white rule ended with South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994. The shooting recalled images of white police firing at anti-apartheid protesters in the 1960s and 1970s, but in this case it was mostly black police firing at black mine workers.
The unrest at the Lonmin mine began Aug. 10, as some 3,000 workers walked off the job over pay in what management described as an illegal strike. Lonmin is the world’s third largest platinum producer. Amid the unrest, global platinum values rose more than $30 an ounce in trading Thursday while stock in Lonmin plunged 6.76 percent on the London Stock Exchange. The company’s stock value has dropped more than 12 percent since the start of the strike.
Lonmin announced Thursday its CEO Ian Farmer has been diagnosed with a serious illness and has been hospitalized. It did not disclose Farmer’s illness.
Police Capt. Dennis Adriao, a spokesman for the officers at the mine, declined to immediately comment. Jeff Wicks, a spokesman for private ambulance company Netcare Ltd. that was standing by at the mine, also declined to comment.
Barnard O. Mokwena, an executive vice president at Lonmin, would say only: “It’s a police operation.”
In a statement earlier Thursday, Lonmin had said striking workers would be sacked if they did not appear at their shifts Friday.
“The striking (workers) remain armed and away from work,” the statement read. “This is illegal.”
Those who tried to go to work on Saturday were attacked, management and the National Union of Mineworkers said.
On Sunday, the rage became deadly as a crowd killed two security guards by setting their car ablaze, authorities said. By Monday, angry mobs killed two other workers and overpowered police, killing two officers, officials said. Officers opened fire that day, killing three others, police said.
Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of miners had gathered at a rocky cliff within sight of the mine’s smelter. They cheered, sang and marched around with machetes and clubs under the watchful eye of police officers in armored trucks. Some leaders of the miners spoke with the police and largely followed their instructions, breaking up the protest as dusk fell.
Operations at Lonmin appeared to come to a standstill Tuesday as workers stayed away from the mines, where 96 percent of all Lonmin’s platinum production comes from. The stoppage also has spooked those investing in Lonmin.
While the walkout appeared to be about wages, the ensuing violence has been fueled by the struggles between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. Disputes between the two unions escalated into violence earlier this year at another mine.
Both unions have blamed each other for the strife at the mine at Marikana, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Associated Press writer Emoke Bebiak in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
More Related Stories
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11