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Africa

Commission to probe South African miners' deaths

With unusual speed, President Zuma has named a judicial commission to look into South Africa's deadliest spate of police violence since the end of apartheid. The same day ceremonies were held mourning the 34 victims.

The three-person commission will be headed by retired appeals court judge Ian Farlam and has been given a broad mandate to probe the police, mining giant Lonmin, rival unions, the government and any individuals involved in the violence.

The inquiry was announced a week after the police crackdown on August 16 in which 34 workers were killed following inter-union clashes that had earlier killed 10 people at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine.     

The commission will have four months to complete their investigations and another month to submit their report.

A paramedic receives help from a policewomen as he tends to the injured after protesting miners were shot outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, Johannesburg. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The judicial commission will look at labor policy and working conditions as well as security

They will not only look at policing and security issues, but also at broader concerns about labor policies and working conditions.

Mines closed

Key politicians mostly stayed away from Thursday's memorial services, leaving religious leaders to articulate the outrage over the killing of 34 miners by police seven days ago, with its unpleasant echoes of the not-too-distant past.

"We are shocked by what has happened. None of us ever thought this would happen again," said Anglican Bishop Johannes Seoka as he addressed thousands of people gathered near Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine.

Police kept their distance as tensions still ran high among workers, with security noticeably lighter than earlier in the week.

Lonmin and the nearby Impala platinum mine were closed to allow workers to attend the local memorial service, one of many ceremonies held across the country. Many of the 34 victims were migrant workers whose bodies have already been returned to their home villages.

Nontamazo Mthembu, a relative of one of the dead, called for assistance from the mines for the the affected families. "It's sad when you look at these families," she said.  

Zuma's crisis management

Before naming the commission,  President Zuma had warned mining firms they could lose their licences if they failed to provide decent housing for their workers.

He also pointed out that the mining industry had assets valued at $2.5 trillion  (1.99 trillion euros) excluding coal and uranium and should therefore be able to pay workers a better wage.

Religious ceremony at Marikana mine. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages)

Religious leaders attending a memorial service for victims of a wildcat strike at Marikana mine

Zuma has met strikers and is trying to address concerns that the government has ígnored their plight.

The South African president is trying to guide his country out of this crisis as he prepares to seek re-election as ANC leader in December.  

Nic Dawes is editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian newspaper in Johannesburg. He told DW that Zuma and the party he leads "have lost some credibility among South African workers and in poor and marginalized communities." 

Firebrand politician Julius Malema, recently expelled by the ANC, warned that the country's mines should brace for a revolution, unless workers' conditions improved. Malema has pushed hard for the nationalization of the country's mines, a policy which the ANC has rejected.

DW's correspondent in South Africa, Subry Govender, says Lonmin workers have said they will return to work on Monday, August 27, if management agrees to their demands for higher wages, better working conditions and assistance with funeral arrangements. 

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