16 Aug 2013

Commemorations to mark shooting of mineworkers

9:33 pm on 16 August 2013

Commemorations are planned in South Africa to mark one year since police shot dead 34 striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine.

The incident - in the midst of a bitter pay dispute - shocked South Africa, and badly damaged confidence in its mining industry, the BBC reports.

The dramatic pictures were beamed across the world, showing resolute men carrying machetes confronted by plumes of gunfire and smoke.

This was a watershed moment in the new South Africa, a country that has elevated the "bill of rights" as the pillar of its value system.

In the days after the tragedy at Lonmin's Marikana mine it remained unclear who was to blame for the violent and deadly outcome, and unfortunately one year later there is still no clarity.

The tragedy has left Africa's wealthiest economy anxious for peace and equilibrium to be restored.

The importance of mining to the South African economy has been shrinking for years, and it now contributes less than 10 percent of GDP. In addition, the process of extracting resources has become more expensive and dangerous as mine shafts go deeper below the earth's surface.

Despite these challenges, Peter Leon, a respected mining analyst, says the sector cannot be written off from the larger economy. It remains the largest generator of foreign exchange earnings and it is the largest private employer in the country.

For Mr Leon what is worrying is that since Marikana, "South Africa has seen a downgrade of its international credit ratings, the local currency weakened and business confidence decline."

The South African rand has fallen 15% against the dollar in recent months, and while it is still too early to tell whether investment has fallen, analysts agree that something needs to be done and quickly.

But Mr Leon adds that if anything good came out of Marikana it is that it acted as a wake-up call for the government "which will force it to stop dawdling on industry reforms".


There is much debate over what these reforms should be. For the workers, change would entail higher wages and better living conditions on the mines.

What remains important to the mining companies is greater policy certainty, a productive labour force and higher commodity prices globally.

The government is working on a framework agreement between all stakeholders, aimed at bringing much-needed stability to the industry, but some unions are unhappy with it.

Another thing to have come out of the Marikana tragedy is the emergence of the Association for Mineworkers and Construction (AMCU) as a much stronger force.

The wage dispute at Marikana was exacerbated by tensions between AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). At the Lonmin mine, AMCU has now displaced the NUM as the biggest union at the mine.