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Minister defends South Africa police shootings

South Africa's police minister has told parliament that police who shot dead 34 striking mineworkers had tried to avert the fatal confrontation. A firebrand ANC figure says he has laid murder charges against police.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa told a special parliamentary debate on the killings at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana - northwest of Johannesburg - that "police had done all in their power to avert such a situation."

Close-up of President Zuma speaking to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa

Zuma with Mthethwa (left) who defends police actions

Mthethwa said the use of live ammunition was "not a sudden eruption but a culmination of events that were building over months and months."

"The loss of life among workers and members of our police services is tragic and regrettable," he told parliament in Johannesburg.

Two policemen were among 10 people killed during rivalry between two trade unions at the mine several days before police opened fire on striking workers who allegedly carried machetes and clubs.

Ex-ANC firebrand lays charges

According to the news agency AFP, the firebrand politician, Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in April, has laid charges of murder, assault and attempted murder against police in the mining town.

"We are here to open a case because we feel very strongly that when a murder has happened, there must be a case opened," Malema said.

Mine owner lifts threat as nation mourns

On Tuesday, the mine's owner Lonmin eased off on its threat to sack miners who failed to return to work.

Company spokesman Mark Munroe told local radio that mass firings would be counterproductive even though some workers trickled back on Tuesday.

"I don't think it's going to contribute to a stable environment if Lonmin goes out and puts deadlines and ultimatums," Munroe said.

Collins Chabane, a spokesman for South African President Jacob Zuma, said the government had urged Lonmin to allow more time for families to grieve.

President Zuma has declared a week of mourning, with ceremonies planned for Thursday. Last Friday, he announced a commission of inquiry into the killings.

With six bodies still awaiting identification, authorities on Tuesday said that many bodies would be transported long distances to return to home villages of the mine's largely migrant workforce.

Ramaphosa (foreground) at an ANC hearing

Cyril Ramaphosa is a member of both the ANC and Lonmin

Intertwinned relationships

A well-known member of Lonmin's board is former trade unionist turned South African businessman Cyril Ramaphosa. He is a senior ANC member and founder of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which backed the ANC during the overthrow of apartheid white-rule in 1994.

At Marikana the NUM was challenged by demands for major pay hikes from the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

Goldmining firms facing lawsuits

In another mining-related development, a lawyer for 3,000 South African ex-miners who claim they suffer from silicosis says a lawsuit has been filed against three gold mining companies.

Miners walk away from mine shaft works at the Gold Fields Driefontein mine, southwest of Johannesburg

Health issues have also surfaced at South Africa's gold mines

The three companies named - AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony -declined comment on Tuesday, according to the news agency Reuters.

South African lawyer Charles Abrahams said the filing was a preliminary step to determine whether the country's court system would certify a class legal action. Last year, South Africa's Constitutional Court cleared the way for lung-diseased miners to sue their employers.

"If the certification is granted we anticipate that this may be the largest damages suit in the history of this country, in the tens of billions of rands possibly" said Abrahams.

The chief executive of the gold excavator Harmony, Graham Briggs, said earlier this year that silicosis was a "big topic" but it did not amount to "class action material."

Silicosis, caused by silica or quartz dust stirred into the air when stone is excavated, destroys lung tissue and can be fatal. It is also linked to a high incidence of tuberculosis, particularly at South African gold mines.

ipj/pfd (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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