CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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South African bishops call for inquiry into mine violence

CAPE TOWN (CNS): “We cannot allow this violence to escalate and become a normal part of our society,” said South Africa’s bishops in condemning the August 16 killing of 34 workers at a platinum mine in Marikana, 96.5 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg. 

They called for a judicial inquiry into the circumstances that led to the violence. 

In addition, 78 people were injured when police opened fire on striking miners who, armed with machetes and homemade spears, were gathered on a rocky outcrop at the mine. 

Another 10 people, including two policemen, had already been killed in violence since the start of an unauthorised strike on August 10. 

In an August 17 statement, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said, “The senseless loss of life, especially through wanton violence, is always a tragedy and needs to be condemned in the strongest terms.” 

Bishop Kevin Dowling, from the diocese of Rustenburg where the mine is located, said on August 17, “There are a lot of questions and not many answers.” 

He added that he and other Church leaders were aware of the standoff between two trade unions over recognition agreements at the mine and “hoped that it would be resolved in the negotiations during the week.” 

The miners were also demanding higher wages. 

The actions of the trade unions, the London-based mining company, Lonmin, and the police “need to be investigated” by an inquiry that also looks at “the living and working conditions at this mining operation,” said the bishops’ statement. 

“We offer to assist in the trauma counselling and community healing that will be necessary for this community and the broader South African community,” it added. 

“There are effective mechanisms available for facilitating and brokering amicable settlements to disputes of whatever nature and we encourage all the parties concerned in this tragic situation to commit to acquiring these skills to ensure that similar unfortunate incidences do not occur again,” it continued. 

Bishop Dowling explained that South Africa’s industrial disputes often turn violent, which “indicates deep frustration and anger.”

He added, “Terrible poverty and high levels of unemployment are the cause of much tension.” 

The secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches, Reverend Mautji Pataki, said that he and the organisation’s president, Anglican Bishop Johannes Seoka, from Pretoria, found workers and management at the mine “willing to engage one another, provided the level of hostility is reduced to allow peaceful interaction and resolution.”......

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