Violent clashes between mine workers and police in South Africa have left over 40 dead and highlighted continued social and economic divisions in an industry, which historically has been the bedrock for much of the development of Africa’s largest economy. Clashes between rival unions have been running for most of the past week at a platinum mine operated by Lonmin, one of the world’s largest producers of the metal. Police shot and killed as many as 30 people on Thursday, when they were allegedly confronted by group of miners. Political parties and unions have called for a government enquiry into the incident.
This is necessary. But no matter the outcome of the investigation, the killing of 30 miners is a clear failure of public order policing. The South African Police Service must take action to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and procedures are put in place to prevent similar incidents from ever happening again.
Union membership at the mine has most likely splintered as workers support different organisations each of which promise to campaign for better pay and working conditions. Government and the company must work together to ensure that workers can earn a decent livelihood, while South African mines remain competitive on international markets.
But, most importantly, the unions must take responsibility for preventing the bloody clashes between their members, or be held in part accountable for their actions.