The massacre of 34 people in Marikana has been broadcast widely. Anita de Klerk looks behind the headlines

We have seen shocking images of the South African police opening fire on striking miners in the north west of the country. It has been described as the ‘worst day of violence since the end of Apartheid’. 34 people have died and 78 people injured.

The ANC government declared the strike – over a pay dispute at the Lonmin platinum mine – illegal and ordered the police to disperse the strikers after the weeklong violent protest. The violence over the last seven days has already killed 10 people as police have used water cannons, teargas and stun grenades in their attempts to break up the strike, called by the National Union of Miners (NUM) for a pay rise of $1000 a month (£636).

The police opened fire using automatic rifles and pistols, in ‘an attempt to protect themselves’, as described by the South African Police Chief in her statement to the international media,  after striking miners ran towards the police line with their pangas and knobkerries (traditional machetes used for cutting thick bush and traditional weapons for stunning livestock).

The South African National Police Commissioner, Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega, went on to claim that ‘this is not a time for finger pointing or for blame, but rather a time for mourning and a time for calm’ in order to keep the country safe.

This is by no means the only incidence of state violence against the working people of South Africa.

In March this year, in the same region of South Africa, Aurora mine workers were denied the court ordered payment of R4.3 million for unpaid wages after the mine, owned by Nelson Mandela’s grandson and Jacob Zuma’s nephew, was declared bankrupt. The bankrupt gold mine continues to be stripped of all its assets, by the directors of the Aurora Mine, with all the proceeds going directly into the directors’ trust accounts while the hundreds of miners are left starving to death.

The miners affected are form Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa, with five miners having committed suicide immediately after the closure of the mine.

On 13 April 2011, 4000 protesters took to the streets and marched to the municipal offices in Ficksberg. The police attempted to disperse the demonstrators with water cannons. A protester, Andries Tatane, tried to intervene to reassure the police that the protest was peaceful and that their dispute was with the municipality over service delivery to the residents of Setsoto, Ficksberg.

Andries Tatane was pulled away from the crowd by the police, repeatedly beaten, kicked and finally shot in the chest twice and left to die 20 minutes later. Andries Tatane has been hailed the new Steve Biko and Hector Pitersen.

In 2010 alone, there were 1769 cases of people who died at the hands of the South African police that were investigated by the Independent Complaints Directorate. This followed the then National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele’s call for the law to be changed in August 2009 that police officers should be allowed to ‘shoot to kill without worrying about what happens next’.

The call to ‘shoot to kill’ has never been discounted or dismissed by the current National Police Commissioner Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega. Figures relating to the number of deaths by the South African police for 2011 have not been released.

Today at 3pm demonstrations of solidarity have been called around the country, calling for the resignation of Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s Police Minister, and the end to police brutality.

Anita de Klerk

Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.

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