South Africa Shocked at Lonmin Mine Killings

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman this is The World. South Africa is in shock one day after police officers fired on a crowd of striking mine workers killing thirty four people. The incident has revived memories of police violence under the countries racist apartheid regime. Today South Africa's police chief said officers at the mine were forced to open fire when armed protestors charged at them. And President Jacob Zuma cut short a trip to Mozambique to make his way to the scene of yesterday's shooting. Reporter Gia Nicolaides is with Eye Witness News in South Africa she's heading back to Johannesburg right now, but she was in Marikana where the protest occurred yesterday and she witnessed the shootings. Gia you were there what did you see?

Gia Nicolaides: Well what happened was the police had been trying to negotiate a truce with this group of protesters for several days and yesterday they decided to move in. After pleading with them to hand over their weapons they refused and the police were waiting with the water cannons and they used rubber bullets, some grenades, and tear gas to try and disperse the crowd. The national police commissioner today said they used minimal force at first and only opened fire once the protesters had opened fire on police and it was in retaliation to that.

Werman: So were you able to determine yesterday whether that was true? That the miners really did the first aggression here

Nicolaides: It's very difficult to say. What we did see is pictures and footage of the six firearms that were recovered from those protestors. But it is difficult to say who started opening fire first. And we know that the national police commissioner has taken full responsibility saying that she gave the policeman on the ground the responsibility to do what they needed to do to disperse the crowd and restore stability to the area. But I think the main question is who opened fire first?

Werman: Hmm

Nicolaides: Was it the protestors or the policeman?

Werman: Were any of the victims police?

Nicolaides: Yesterday the victims were only protestors. But this violence has been going on for a week now. The protestors embarked on an illegal strike last week Friday and that's when the violence actually started. And two security guards at Lawman mines were actually killed. Two police officers were hacked to death on Monday afternoon. The protesters actually attacked them with spears and hangers and they were killed during that attack when police were trying to disperse a small group who had gathered. And several attackers were also killed during that attack in retaliation. But before this actual incident yesterday, the one that made national headlines, ten people had been killed brutally and the police had been trying to negotiate truce with them for several days in order to disarm them and to make them disperse from their particular hill where they have been gathering at. Mainly because people in the community, policemen, and security at the mine have been threatened by these men who are heavily armed.

Werman: Gia Nicolaides who was in Marikana South Africa yesterday and witnessed the protest and shootings that took place. She is a reporter at Eye Witness News South Africa. Gia thank you.

Nicolaides: Thanks so much.