Johannesburg, South Africa – This city, once the epicenter of a country ecstatic to be free of the oppression of apartheid, has a malady of problems that harkens to the horrific dark days. There is a staggering 24.7 percent unemployment rate here, compounded by the fact that many business headquarters have fled to nearby provinces.
That crisis of earning a living has been a struggle for some time. But the senseless gunning down of 34 miners by police at the Marikana mine about an hour northwest of Johannesburg has shaken the masses.
Thursday, thousands of mourners attended a memorial service for the slain men. And seventy or so miles away, the pain was palpable among those who live in South Africa.
“It is very sad and scary,” Thokozani Mdluli, a local tour guide, told atlantablackstar.com. “Immediately, these killings made me think back to apartheid. In fact, it’s just like apartheid. Here we have workers protesting peacefully for higher pay—which is their right, especially with how hard they work and the danger that comes with the job—and they get killed. Shot.
“It made me think back to the 69 people who were killed in 1960 for objecting to the laws that required them to carry an identity card on them at all times or be jailed. Shot down in cold blood.
“And remember the Soweto vs. Bantu Education Act case. “
All of black South Africa certainly does. Students peacefully demonstrated against a law that would require them to abandon their native language and adopt a form of Dutch speak called Afrikaan, and police eventually opened fire on the protesting students and killed 350.
“And this is the worst part about the mining killings,” Mdluli said, “is that this happened under the government black South Africa voted in office and was supposed to protect black people. The government we voted for is in office and we still have people dying like this. It is a real disaster. “
Clive Sethukani, who works at a market between Pretoria and Johannesburg, said he was concerned about further backlash. Parliament met today on the shootings, but nothing came of it that would comfort citizens.
“I don’t understand it,” Sethukani said in an interview with atlantablackstar.com. “I am surprised it happened and now I am scared it could happen again. I mourn for the dead men. We all do. Now the big issue has to be to stop this. This is like apartheid and we cannot have acts like then come back to now.”
The striking miners, numbering up to 3,000, remain in protest of their meager wages; they make the equivalent of $484 a month on a physically challenging and dangerous job. And they remain steadfast in their commitment, just as those before them who confronted the ills of apartheid. Some have said on local television that they would rather die as their comrades did than give in to working so drastically underpaid.
“It’s OK to disagree and not want to pay the workers more, but not at the expense of our people,” said South African Sampson Khumalo. “That just should not happen. It’s hard to believe it has happened.”
Added Mdluli: “If you disagree about their position, you compromise. Meet them half way. You don’t have them shot and killed. The whole world is looking at South Africa and condemning what happened at the mines. For us, it’s a total disaster.”