Four wounded in African gold mine protest

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There has been another shooting at a mine in South Africa. Four people were wounded this time, just weeks after 34 striking workers were killed at another South African mine.

The incident occurred just to the east of Johannesburg. Four miners were injured when security guards opened fire with rubber bullets on a crowd of roughly a thousand protestors who were fired after going on strike in June over higher wages. The miners there earn about $500 a month, and have been fighting to bump their pay to as much as $1,500 a month.

Patrick Craven, with South Africa’s biggest trade union federation COSATU, said the incidents highlight the serious tensions at play in South Africa. “Protests in South Africa, not only trade union protests but community protests as well, have been getting increasingly violent and angry,” Craven said. “We’re sitting on a ticking time bomb. And what happened on the 16th of August is the bomb exploded.”

According to reports, the miners were trying to block the entrance of the Modder East mine owned by a company called Gold One. They were discharged with minor injuries later in the day.

Last week, South African prosecutors said 270 arrested miners would be charged with the murder of 34 of their co-workers, who were shot and killed by police near Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine on August 16. Ten other people, including policemen and security guards, had been killed in the week leading up to what is now being called the Marikana Massacre in South Africa.

Prosecutors were relying on controversial apartheid-era laws to charge the men with the murders – effectively saying that the miners provoked the police to open fire. But the charges were provisionally set aside on Sunday.

Since the incident, unrest has been spreading across South African mines. Go any direction from Johannesburg and you may bump into miners striking. Marikana is to the Northwest, and tens of thousands of miners are still striking three weeks after they began, demanding a pay raise to $1,500 a month.

Go west and you’ll find 12,000 miners at the Gold Fields company who have downed tools – also for a pay raise.

In South Africa, this is being seen as a watershed moment; A wake up call to the human side of extracting natural resources. The global economy –- and so many industries –- are extremely dependent on poor, marginalized workers doing their jobs, often in dangerous or unpleasant conditions.

“These explosions are taking place around companies which are making vast profits, paying their executives unbelievably high salaries, and the workers are not unaware of that,” Craven said.

The government has created a commission of inquiry. Analysts and observers in South Africa are calling on that commission to find out objectively and independently as possible to find out what happened at Marikana on August 16.

All reporting by Gretchen L. Wilson, © 2012

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