Shares in Lonmin PLC fell as much as 8 percent Friday. Since violence broke out last weekend at the Marikana mine, shares have fallen by as much as 20 percent, wiping some 390 million pounds ($610 million) off the company’s market value. The company, the world’s third-largest platinum miner, has also been hit by Thursday’s announcement that chief executive officer Ian Farmer is hospitalized with a serious illness.
Also Friday, police and forensic experts watched by about 100 people combed the scene of the shooting, planting multicolored cones and numbered placards to mark evidence amid the dirt and bushes where the shooting took place. Police also searched the rocky outcropping where thousands of miners had gathered daily to strike.
The South Africa Police Service defended officers’ actions, saying in a statement that they were “viciously attacked by the (strikers), using a variety of weapons, including firearms. The police, in order to protect their own lives and in self-defense, were forced to engage the group with force.”
Shocked South Africans watched replay after replay of video of the shooting that erupted after police used water cannons, and then stun grenades and tear gas in an effort to disperse the strikers and get them to hand over their weapons. Some miners did leave, though others carrying weapons began war chants and marched toward the township near the mine.
Suddenly, a group of miners rushed through the underbrush and haze of tear gas at a line of police officers. Officers immediately opened fire, with miners falling to the ground. Dozens of shots were fired by police armed with automatic rifles and pistols.
By the time officers shouted “Cease fire!” dozens of miners were motionless on the ground, dead or dying.
Poor South Africans protest daily across the country for basic services such as running water, housing and better health and education. Protests often turn violent, with people charging that ANC leaders have joined the white minority that continues to enrich itself while life becomes ever harder for the black majority.
While the initial walkout and protest focused on wages, violence has been fueled by the struggles between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart and more radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
NUM secretary-general Frans Baleni has said that some of his union members were on a hit list, including a shop steward killed Tuesday by strikers.
• Faul reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press journalist Jon Gambrell contributed to this report.