South Africans are reeling from the killing by police of more than 30 striking platinum miners, questioning how such a brutal massacre could happen in a country that felt it had moved beyond the bloody massacres of its past.
During the apartheid era, there were scenes of mass killings that shocked the nation and the world and ramped up the pressure to end apartheid. Hundreds of students were killed in 1976 during the Soweto uprisings, more than 50 people were killed in 1960 during the Sharpeville massacre. Now the nation will have to add the platinum mining massacre to the list—leading a major South African newspaper to question what has changed since the end of apartheid 18 years ago.
“It has happened in this country before where the apartheid regime treated black people like objects,” said the paper, The Sowetan, named after South Africa’s biggest black township, in an editorial. “It is continuing in a different guise now.”
The mining killings have led to soul-searching across the nation.
The newspaper front pages screamed headlines like “Bloodbath,” “Killing Field” and “Mine Slaughter,” rife with horrible pictures of heavily armed white and black police officers walking casually past the bloodied, crumpled corpses of black men sprawled in the dirt.
Reuters also had television footage of police officers opening fire on a group of unarmed miners.
The images were a disturbing reminder of the past in this nation that is only a few decades removed from such scenes of massacre at the hands of law enforcement.
It took 12 hours for the country’s police minister Nathi Mthethwa to confirm that at least 30 men had died when the police clashed with 3,000 striking miners about 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg.
“A lot of people were injured and the number keeps on going up,” Mthethwa said in an interview on Talk Radio 702.
President Jacob Zuma, who left a regional summit in neighboring Mozambique to travel to the mine, said he was “shocked and dismayed” at the violence.
“We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence,” he said in a statement.