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Africa

Pay inequality is "a central problem" in South Africa

As mediation efforts continue to end the strike at South Africa's Marikana Lonmin mine, claims that arrested miners were tortured are also being examined.

Three weeks after South African police shot dead 34 miners at the Marikana mine in the worst case of police violence since the end of apartheid, there is still no sign of a breakthrough in the pay dispute. Hundreds of miners arrested after the violence have now been released. Some claim to have been tortured while in police custody.  For an assessment of the human rights situation in South Africa, DW turned to Cameron Jacobs, the South Africa Director of Human Rights Watch.

DW: Mr Jacobs, did human rights violations occur during the Marikana mine violence?

Cameron Jacobs, South Africa Director, Human Rights Watch.

Cameron Jacobs, South Africa Director of Human Rights Watch

Cameron Jacobs: Well I think the details are still a bit sketchy at the moment of exactly what happened. That's why the commission of enquiry has been established, to determine exactly and to investigate exactly whether excessive force was used by the police and whether that force was disproportional to the threat posed. Having said that, it seems to be clear at this point  that the force utilized by the police, in which 34 people were killed, was exceptionally heavy handed. But I think that the fact score needs to be determined of exactly what happened.  Who made the particular call to use live ammunition against the miners, and why this call was in fact made. I think also what needs to be determined, not only in respect of August 16 when 34 people were killed, but also everything leading up to that particular point, for example, the extent to which miners were able to peacefully demonstrate, and whether dispute resolution mechanisms were effectivelly utilized to negotiate with miners. From all accounts it seems that the Lonmin management was very reluctant to negotiate with mineworkers, and I think this led in part to August 16 2012,

But I also think that when you're speaking about human rights abuse and how mineworkers' rights may have been violated, there's a much broader issue at stake. And that is the living wage of mineworkers.  I think that needs to be brought into the scope of the debate as well.

Some miners say they were tortured while under police custody. Has your office investigated these allegations?

At the moment  we are speaking to our partners on the ground about the allegations of torture. That point remains circumstantial but in the next coming weeks we are going to get to the bottom of this and speak to particular mineworkers to investigate the veracity of these allegations.

What can you say about the overall human rights situation in South Africa?

The overall human rights situation in South Africa is not necessarily a bad one. But I do think that one of the biggest problem in South Africa is the great disparity in wages and the high level of inequality in the country. If there's anything positive that can come out of what happened on August 16, it's to highlight the rising levels of inequality in the country, in which particular senior executives are earning millions and millions of rand per annum versus the ordinary workers who are hardly able to survive. And I think that is certainly one of the central problems in the country. And unless the country resolves that particular issue, you possibly could see more tragic scenes like those of August 16.

Do you see any commitment by the government to address this issue of inequality?

I think there is a broad commitment by the government but I think broad commitment must be matched by actual implementation. When you are looking at multinational cooperation within the extractive industry for example and the amount of profit they are able to gain at the expense of workers, I think that must come under particular scrutiny.

Interview: Isaac Mugabi

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