Marikana shooting: Lonmin apologises for South Africa deaths

A memorial service and minute's silence marked the anniversary of the shootings

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The owner of the South African mine where 34 striking workers were shot dead by police a year ago has apologised to relatives.

"We will never replace your loved ones and I say we are truly sorry for that," Lonmin boss Ben Magara said.

He was speaking to thousands of people gathered to mark the anniversary of the deaths at the Marikana platinum mine.

South Africa's governing ANC is not attending the commemorations, saying they have been "hijacked".

The ANC pulled out at the last minute, accusing some of "taking advantage of a tragedy for their own political benefit".

At the scene

Machetes and spears have been replaced by sticks and umbrellas - the miners say they have decided to not bring any weapons to show respect to those who were killed here last year.

They also say they want to show that they want an end to the violence.

Some miners are disappointed that the government is not here to mourn with them and also to remember those who died.

The large crowd of miners are singing struggle songs - one calls for an early election so they can "vote for a government that really cares for the people".

The police presence has intensified since this morning but they are keeping their distance from the crowd.

The proceedings have been peaceful with various religious leaders holding prayers and Lonmin management also in attendance.

Police helicopters can be seen flying above. The local ANC has said it felt "excluded" by the organisers and that is why it chose not to attend.

At the ceremony, Mr Magara, head of the world's third largest platinum producer, said:

"It should not have to take the loss of so many lives for us as a company, as employees, as a community and as a nation to learn that this should have never happened and that it should never happen again."

"Each day we feel the effects of this tragedy," he added.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg says the apology makes a shift of attitude from Lonmin.

The company has been criticised for not taking any ownership of the events that led to last year's killings or apologising, she says.

Shock

The shootings were the deadliest use of police force since the ANC came to power in 1994, ending white minority rule.

The government was criticised for its handling of the crisis, which shocked South Africa and hit confidence in the mining sector.

Rivalry between two unions - one allied to the ANC - was at the heart of the unrest.

The pro-ANC National Union of Mineworkers has been displaced as the majority union in the Marikana mine by the more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Mining South Africa's riches

  • Minerals and metals account for 60% of all export revenue
  • Mining contributes close to 10% of South Africa's GDP
  • 513,211 jobs - in 2011
  • South Africa is the world's biggest platinum producer, with 80% of the world's reserves
  • It has 50% of known global gold reserves

Source : South African Chamber of Mines (2012)

"The ANC finds it immoral and totally unacceptable that such a traumatic incident could be turning into a political playground" by its opponents, it said in a statement.

Government officials were also absent from the events, organised by Amcu, which called last year's unofficial strikes and is again pushing for substantial wage increases.

Several opposition leaders, including firebrand youth leader Julius Malema, sat with the miners' widows.

Some in the ANC fear that Amcu could form an alliance with Mr Malema, who was expelled from the ANC last year and who recently formed a new political grouping.

Mr Malema, who fell out with South African President Jacob Zuma and accused him of ignoring poor black South Africans, was loudly cheered when he arrived.

Thousands of mine workers gathered at the rocky hill, or koppie, where their colleagues were killed last year, singing songs and listening to speeches.

Religious leaders held prayers and a minute's was scheduled around the time when the police opened fire on the striking miners.

No arrests

The police say they feared they would be attacked by a mob armed with machetes, sticks and other weapons during last year's dispute.

In the week before the shootings, 10 people had been killed during violent protests, including two security guards and two police officers.

President Zuma set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the events leading to the killings.

But some of the Marikana miners are angry that not a single policeman has yet been arrested over the shootings.

Correspondents say that while talks between the government, unions and business have yet to produce stability, an atmosphere of violence and intimidation endures in the area.

Earlier this week, a senior NUM official was shot dead near the mine.

Lonmin's platinum smelter in Marikana The ANC objected to the Marikana mine commemoration being "hijacked"

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