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Canadians condemn South African police killing of 44 miners

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A day after police killed 34 miners, many wives still didn't know whether their husbands were dead, in jail or injured. 

It was South Africa's worst labour related violence since 1994, when the country replaced apartheid with majority rule.

The killings came a week after miners walked off the job at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, demanding that their wages be tripled from R4,000 ($480) to R12,500 ($1,560) per month.

Lonmin Corporation, the world's third biggest platinum producer, accounts for 12 per cent of the world's output of platinum.

South Africa holds the world’s largest reserves of more than a dozen minerals, including platinum. 

Click here to see more photos from Saturday's demonstration.

According to mining analysts, platinum is labour-intensive, dangerous and done deep underground with regular fatalities.

Armed with only homemade spears and machetes to defend themselves, the surviving miners said theywere only fighting for their rights.

On Thursday, August 16, riot police officers opened fire on striking miners with real bullets, after attempts to disperse a crowd of more than 3,000 with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets didn't work. 

The miners were members of the upstart Association of Mine Workers and Construction union, whose members broke away from the older National Union of Mine Workers claiming that they were too closely aligned with the African National Congress.

The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa's governing political party, has held power since 1994.

But many no longer trust the party or its president Jacob Zuma, who has been accused of many financial scandals.

Ten other miners were killed in an earlier skirmish with police. 

The violence was immediately condemned by countries around the world.

In Canada, protesters held a demonstration on Saturday outside the Consulate of South Africa in Toronto. They wore black arm bands and carried signs that read “Condemn the Massacre of the Miners” and “Down with Capitalism.”

This rally was organized by labour, community and international solidarity activists.

“We know that these workers gave up their lives for improving the workers' conditions and combatting exploitation in the South African mining industry,” said Ilain Burbano, Chair, CUPE Ontario International Solidarity Committee.

“Part of the reason we're wearing the black arm bands is a symbol of mourning but it's also a symbol of defiance and resistance.”

Images of dead miners surrounded by riot police with guns in hand were printed out, attached to white bristol board paper and hung around the demonstrators' necks with coloured ribbon.

“Those of us who were around in the 70's and 80's and participated in the anti-apartheid movement are revolted by the images that we saw on the television,” said Ajamu Nangwaya, Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity.

“It's very clear that what we're seeing is a neo-apartheid state that is willing to use force to maintain the political, economic and social status quo.”

But the demonstrators were not willing to accept that type of relationship. So they'll continue to denounce what's going on in South Africa while fighting similar neo-liberal policies in Canada.

Barry Weisleder of Socialist Action (Canada) reminded the crowd of almost 100 people that the Canadian mining corporations are among the worst when it comes to wreaking havoc on the environment, exploiting workers and suppressing unions.

“The mines and mills globally should be nationalized and operated under workers' control if operated at all,” said Weisleder.

Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan brought the condolences of the Ontario labour movement for the workers who were killed in South Africa.

“State sponsored terrorism is not just an issue in South Africa,” said Ryan. 

He recalled the 1990 Oka Crisis, a land dispute between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka, Quebec, where federal, Quebec based Canadian Army troops were brought in to resolve the standoff between the Mohawks and the Quebec government.

He remembered when the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) killed unarmed protester Dudley George in Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995. When the British army “slaughtered” innocent people on the streets of Derry, Northern Ireland in 1972. 

When in 1968, students were massacred in the United States at Kent State University for speaking out against the war in Viet Nam.

“It's capitalism run amuck,” said Ryan. “We now see miners living in abject poverty.”

Reuters reported last week that “Children play and dogs and chickens forage near sewage spilling from pit latrines in the shadow of Lonmin's Marikana mine in South Africa which extracts the platinum used to make jewellery and auto parts.

“Ramshackle settlements cluster around this mine operated by the world no. 3 platinum producer and around others in the North West Province, the world's prime platinum mining region.”

“Now in every single country around the world, workers are on the ropes,” said Ryan. “It happened because we didn't hit the streets when we had the opportunity.”

Ryan warned the crowd that if they don't publicly demonstrate now, they'll lose everything they've gained over the last 150 years.

“That's why it's so important that we stand in solidarity with the miners in South Africa,” he said.

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