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22 August 2012

Massacre of Lonmin miners – Christian leaders step in

Massacre of Lonmin miners – Christian leaders step in

The president of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) has stepped in to mediate between executives at a British-owned mining company and striking workers, following the massacre of 34 miners last week.

Described as one of the worst incidents since apartheid, police shot dead 34 miners who stood firm on their action to press for improved living and working conditions.

The killings took place at the Lonmin Platinum mine near Rustenburg and followed the tragic deaths of 10 people earlier in the dispute.

Bishop Jo Seoka, president of the SACC and chair of Christian Aid partner Bench Marks Foundation, announced today that he had persuaded executives at the mining company Lonmin to meet with striking miners in Marikana in the north-west province of South Africa.

"We have been in discussions since yesterday and we are pleased to announce that Lonmin have finally agreed to meet with representatives of the strikers," Seoka announced, adding that executives have already reversed their threat to sack striking workers because of the week-long period of national mourning. The outcome of the talks will be announced later today.

Seoka yesterday published an open letter to President Zuma demanding an immediate and objective enquiry into the killing of 34 miners.

"There is still a huge police presence here today, many of the striking miners are refusing to go back to work, and the miners' grieving families don't know if their loved ones will even get a decent burial.

"The coming investigation into the shootings must commence promptly and consist of an impartial commission that will be able to establish responsibilities for the incident at all levels within the police force and government, and the top management of Lonmin."

According to Bench Marks Foundation, which specialises in monitoring corporate social responsibility, there is a complete lack of concurrence between the way mines in the north-west province present themselves and the way communities see them.

The Foundation also warns that further violent community protests are likely to erupt over the lack of education, training and employment opportunities in much of the province.

"Communities in the area say that mines' corporate social responsibility programmes are 'lies' as they make a lot of promises when they enter a community but often do not deliver," Seoka added.

"The majority of the projects are done to satisfy their public image and rarely do they consult with workers to find out what they actually need."

Writing in South Africa's Business Report, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that the violence reminded him of how the police behaved during apartheid.

He said: "When we consigned apartheid to history, we said never again would it happen that our police and our soldiers would massacre our people."