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South Africans mark anniversary of 'Marikana massacre'

Thousands have met to mark the one-year anniversary of the Marikana killings, where South African police killed 34 mine workers. The African National Congress has boycotted the ceremonies, saying they're politicized.

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Colleagues and friends of those killed a year ago gathered at the site of the bloodbath Friday on the rocky hills of a mine northeast of Johannesburg. Religious leaders led prayers for the victims, while some wore shirts saying "never again" or "remember the Marikana massacre."

On August 16, 2012, police opened fire on protesting workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine, killing 34 people. It was the deadliest incident of its kind since the end of apartheid in 1994.

ANC boycotts

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party refused to attend the event, saying organizers had politicized it by inviting opposition leaders and a militant mining union. Many ANC members sit on the boards of mining companies, and the government has largely defended police tactics.

Tensions remain high between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). The NUM, which is associated with the ANC, also boycotted the commemoration.

Police kept their distance at Friday's event, while Lonmin's chief executive was on hand to address the crowd.

"We will never replace your loved ones, and I say we are truly sorry for that," said CEO Ben Magara. "It should not have taken so many lives for us … as a nation to learn that this should not have happened and this should never happen again."

No one held responsible

The "Marikana massacre" was among 60 deaths during a wave of illegal strikes and labor disputes in South African mines which began last year and have continued into 2013. The violence contributed to the country's economic downgrade, and the government's handling of the incident drew international condemnation.

President Jacob Zuma has launched an inquiry into the killings, but so far no one has been held responsible. The slow progress of the government's report has fueled anger within the country, where people are asking for accountability.

"The long-term consequences for the respect and protection of human rights in South Africa will be severe should the South African authorities fail," Amnesty International's Deputy Program Director for Africa, Noel Kututwa, said in a statement.

dr/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)