South African platinum miners end strike, accepting pay raise

South-africa-mine

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Platinum miners at Lonmin's Marikana site ended their illegal six-week strike after winning raises of up to 22% in a deal critics warned could ignite a wave of pay demands and wildcat strikes across South Africa's troubled mining industry.

One rival union official warned that the deal signed late Tuesday sent a signal that dumping previous wage agreements and staging illegal strikes paid off.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Wednesday to disperse protesters at a neighboring platinum mine near Rustenburg owned by Anglo American Platinum, news agencies reported, where workers were calling for wage increases to match the Lonmin deal. A police spokesman said 19 protesters were arrested at the mine.

Miners at Goldfields' KDC West mine are also on an illegal strike.

Strikes are deemed illegal by South Africa's Labor Court if the workers have not submitted their grievance to a conciliation body and given 30 days' notice of a planned strike or if they stop work over an issue covered by a current agreement with employers in order to extract concessions in a future agreement.

In a sign that demands for wage increases are likely to spread, the main trade union body, COSATU, called on other mining companies to match Lonmin's salary increase.

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Somalia's presidential newcomer faces tough job

Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- While international leaders on Tuesday urged Somalia’s new president to move swiftly to establish an inclusive government in order to rebuild his ruined nation, the Islamic militia that controls much of the country called him a traitor.

In a statement from New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Hassan Sheik Mohamud and called on him to move swiftly to establish a broad-based government. Mohamud's first task will be to select a prime minister.

But Sheik Ali Mahmud Rage, a spokesman for the Al Qaeda-linked militia Al Shabab, said that Mohamud represented Western interests and that his election by parliament was manipulated by outside powers in a bid to steal Somali resources, Reuters reported.

Al Shabab's fighters withdrew from Mogadishu in August 2011 and have since lost control of several important provincial towns. However, they retain the capacity to unleash attacks and assassinations in the Somali capital.

The election of Mohamud, an academic, civic activist and opposition politician, was widely viewed as a surprise because he is a political newcomer from outside Somalia's political elite. He faces the difficult task of uniting Somalia’s fractious clans, overcoming the legacy of 21 years as a failed state and dealing with the ongoing rebellion by Al Shabab.

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After shootings, South Africa warns mines to do more for workers

South-africa
This post has been updated. See the note below.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The mineral resources minister of South Africa warned mining companies on Monday they would face "consequences" if they fail to do more to improve workers' lives after 34 striking platinum miners protesting for higher pay were slain last month by police.

Susan Shabangu blamed mining companies for dragging their feet in providing decent lives for their workers. The minister told a news conference in Johannesburg that most mine managers in South Africa were white and male, a sign of the industry's failure to include other racial groups and women in its leadership.

She warned that it wasn't the job of government to provide services such as housing for miners, and attacked companies for failing to do enough to improve workers' lives.

"Mining companies are not coming to the party as per their responsibilities," Shabangu said, adding that legislation on mining companies' obligations "is clear. If companies don't comply, there will be consequences. ... It will lead to fines. It will lead to closures of companies that do not comply."

President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress government are under intense pressure over their handling of the killings at Lonmin's Marikana mine. Zuma faces an important leadership vote in December.

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South Africa mourns as efforts to save Solly the hippo fail

Solly
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- It was supposed to be one be of those feel-good stories that make a nation smile after a couple of weeks of pretty rotten news here in South Africa.

But the oddball tale of a young hippo who got trapped in a swimming pool turned into into a tragedy — broadcast live on television Friday.

The young male hippo, who had become a South African celebrity and even inspired someone to start up a Twitter account in his name, died just as a vet arrived and a crane was brought in to rescue him.

He had been forced out of his pod by dominant male hippos in a game reserve in northern South Africa’s Limpopo province and had wandered into a swimming pool, more than six feet deep, without steps, at a game lodge.

With no way to get out of the pool, the hippo, nicknamed Solly, was trapped.

Plans were drawn up to save Solly, and media gathered around the pool. The idea was to sedate the hippo and winch the one-ton animal out of the pool using a crane, blindfold him, put him on a truck and take him to safety.

It was always going to be a long shot.

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In Kenya, ethnic clash over land kills 52

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Men armed with machetes, bows and arrows, spears and guns attacked a rival village in southeastern Kenya on Wednesday in a dispute over land, killing 52 people, according to Kenyan police. 

Found dead at the scene were 31 women, 11 children and six men, many of whom had been hacked to death, or had been barricaded in their huts and burned to death. Four others died at a hospital.

Tensions over land between pastoralists and farmers in isolated rural communities go back centuries in Africa and persist in Kenya. In many countries, particularly in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa, the problem is often exacerbated by government neglect.

An undercurrent in the Darfur conflict in western Sudan was long-running tensions over land use. In central Nigeria, clashes between nomadic herders and farmers sometimes leave dozens dead. Ready access to guns across the region has worsened the toll of tribal clashes.

Police said Wednesday's clashes between the Pokomo and Orma people in the Tana Delta region grew out of long-standing disputes over the use of grazing land and water.

"They were armed with crude weapons: machetes, bows and arrows and spears. Some had guns," area deputy police chief Robert Kitur told Reuters by telephone. Forty-eight died at the scene and four others died in the hospital, Kenya's Standard newspaper reported. Many others were injured.

Kitur told the Standard that dozens of armed men from the majority Pokomo tribe, whose members cultivate land on the Tana River flood plain, attacked the minority Ormas, pastoralists who rely on cattle herding to survive.

Police characterized it as an attack in revenge for an Orma assault on a Pokomo village that killed three people last week. Local news reports said tensions also had flared because cattle owned by Ormas destroyed Pokomo crops.

There have been similar outbreaks of ethnic violence in Kenya's north in recent weeks.

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Somalia gets new parliament but still waiting for new president

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Somalia's new parliament was due to convene Monday, but a scheduled presidential vote was not being held. No firm date has been given for the vote, which could be delayed days or weeks.

The government changeover comes as the mandate for Somalia's unpopular United Nations-backed transitional government expired, a moment Somalis hope will lead to peace and stability after more than two decades of lawlessness and violence.

Once the parliament has elected a new speaker, a process expected to take a few days, legislators are due to vote in a new president. He would appoint a prime minister, who in turn would appoint the new Cabinet.

Many Somalis see the transition process as the country’s best hope for peace and stability since the fall of dictator Siad Barre 21 years ago. Countless efforts to forge a stable government since then have failed.

The parliament is being selected by 135 clan elders. A technical committee excluded about 70 people from taking seats for having been associated with violence, warlordism or crime.

So far, 225 members of the 275-seat lower house of parliament have been chosen, enough for a quorum.

For many years, Somalia was wracked by violence between competing clan warlords, who were eventually toppled in 2006. Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked militia designated as a terror group by the U.S, controlled much of the country from January 2009 until last August, when it abandoned the capital and pulled back to its stronghold in the south.

Al Shabab still carries out suicide bombings and other attacks in the capital and controls two important ports in the south, at Kismayo and Merca.

The new parliament was to convene at a location inside the airport "green zone," a heavily guarded compound next to the African Union force base, seen as the most secure place in Mogadishu.

A joint statement by the U.N., the African Union, the United States and the European Union said the transition process was an unprecedented opportunity for stability and peace in Somalia.

"The conclusion of the transition should mark the beginning of more representative government in Somalia," the statement issued Sunday said. "Whilst parliament remains a selected rather than elected body, it is essential that it cuts its ties with the past of self-interest and warlordism, and is populated by a new generation of Somali politicians, including the proper representation of Somali women."

More than a dozen candidates are expected to seek the presidency, including the outgoing president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and the speaker of the previous parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan. Both were accused of corruption in a recent U.N. report.

Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali is another prominent contender for the post.

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South Africans outraged by police killing of 34 striking miners

South africa mine
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG - South African police officials Friday confirmed that 34 striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine were killed when police opened fire Thursday, and 78 more were injured, in the bloodiest protest since the apartheid era.

After an official silence Thursday on the number of casualties, police chief Riah Phiyega defended the police actions at a Friday news conference, saying they had no choice but to open fire when they were charged by a mob of angry miners.

She said police tried tear gas, water cannon, stun grenades and rubber bullets, all of which failed to disperse the miners.

PHOTOS: S. African police reportedly open fire on striking miners

South Africans reacted with shock and anger to graphic video footage, which showed miners trying to rush at police, who responded by firing weapons at them for around two minutes, as clouds of dust obscured the scene. When the dust cleared, numerous bodies were seen lying on the ground, some of them still moving.

Phiyega said that before Thursday’s violence, police tried to convince the strikers at the mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg, to disperse, without success.

“The militant group stormed towards the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons. Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilize maximum force to defend themselves,” Phiyega said.

An independent police body, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, will investigate whether the police action was justified, spokesman Moses Dlamini announced Friday in a statement.

“The investigation will seek to establish if the police action was proportional to the threat that was posed by the miners. It is still early in the investigation to establish the real facts around this tragedy,” he said.

Critics said the shocking death toll was a sign that police were poorly trained to deal with the violent protests, which are becoming an increasingly common feature of South African life 18 years after the advent of democracy.

The incident divided South Africans, with some defending police actions, and others saying that the large number of police at the scene had used excessive force.

Some said police panicked when charged by the miners, then opened fire and kept on shooting because they feared they would be killed, after two police officers were brutally hacked to death by a mob of miners earlier in the week and their weapons taken.

Police arrested 256 miners after Thursday’s violence.

The incident was the deadliest police crowd-control exercise since the apartheid era, when security forces suppressed black township protesters with bullets.

In a front page editorial headlined “African lives as cheap as ever,” the Sowetan newspaper said the massacre called into question the quality of South Africa’s leaders.

“We wonder whether there isn't a numbness that comes with the death of an African. It has happened in other parts of the world where wars reduced human beings to nothing more than physical particles. It has happened in this country before where the apartheid regime treated black people like objects. It is continuing in a different guise now,” the editorial said.

The South African Institute of Race Relations, an independent think tank, compared the killings with the 1960 Sharpeville massacre when police shot more than 60 people dead. It called for the suspension of the police involved.

"What happened at Lonmin is completely unacceptable,” the institute said in a statement. "There is clear evidence that policemen randomly shot into the crowd with rifles and handguns. There is also evidence of their continuing to shoot after a number of bodies can be seen dropping and others turning to run.

“It would also appear as if they were not properly equipped to control a crowd.”

Protests are common in South Africa and often turn violent. Most are not about political freedom; they are more often a cry for a better life from poor, uneducated people living bleak, desperate lives with almost no hope of improvement.

South Africa’s townships and shantytowns see frequent protests over the government’s failure to deliver decent services – while a series of protests at mines have focused on better wages and conditions.

Many of the striking miners are rock drillers, one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs underground, earning $500 a week.

Some commentators blamed poor leadership, in barbed criticism of President Jacob Zuma, often seen as distracted by in-fighting and leadership squabbles in the ruling African National Congress.

Gavin Silber, columnist at online political news site Politicsweb, tweeted that the crisis at the Lonmin mine “illustrates SA crisis of leadership across the spectrum.”

The violence broke out after police laid out barbed wire to prevent miners from approaching the mine, according to Phiyega. Miners then rushed forward, trying to outflank the police.

She said six guns were recovered from the bodies of the dead miners who rushed at police, including two guns that belonged to the police killed earlier in the week. Under South African law, police are entitled to use lethal force if they believe their lives are in danger.

Phiyega, who formerly led Transnet, the state freight agency, was appointed as national police commissioner in June with no police experience.

The shootings Thursday brought the number of dead in the Lonmin platinum mine strike to 44. Miners walked off the job Aug. 10 demanding a 300% wage increase. Before Thursday’s shootings, 10 others were killed including two police, two security guards and three officials of the National Union of Mineworkers, one of two unions struggling for dominance in South Africa’s platinum mines.

The industrial dispute at the mine has been exacerbated by the battle between the National Union of Mineworkers and a new union, the Assn. of Mineworkers and Construction Union, both of whom pointed fingers at one another over the violence.

Three National Union of Mineworkers shop stewards were among the 10 killed earlier in the week and officials of the union accused the rival union of circulating a hit list of National Union of Mineworkers officials. The National Union of Mineworkers has accused the Assn. of Mineworkers and Construction Union of stirring up trouble during a crippling illegal six-week strike in January, when workers rioted, looted and burned property. Three died in that violence.

Analyst Steve Friedman said the main problem was that police were not trained to deal with violence like that encountered at the mine.

"It is not a question of being tougher. They are not adequately trained. If you put guns and bullets in the hands of these people, who are not trained properly, you have a problem," he told SAPA.

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Photo: South Africans protest against the police and the government outside the parliament in Cape Town on Friday. Credit: EPA

 


Police reportedly open fire on striking South African miners

South-africa-miners

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Police opened fire Thursday on striking workers at a South African platinum mine, killing at least seven protesters, according to media reports.

The shootings came after police moved in to try to disperse workers after a week of violence at the mine, which had earlier left 10 dead, including eight miners. The other two slain were police officers reportedly hacked to death by workers armed with machetes.

The trouble occurred at Lonmin's platinum mine at Marikana, about 40 miles northwest of Johannesburg. There were conflicting reports on the number of people killed in Thursday's violence. Reuters news service said its cameraman at the scene counted seven bodies.

PHOTOS: S. African police reportedly open fire on striking miners

Reuters video showed a line of dozens of police confronting a crowd of miners who were trying to rush at them. Police opened fire and continued shooting into a cloud of dust for about two minutes. When the dust cleared and the police advanced, the bodies of seven miners were seen on the ground.

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Heartbreak Hill: South African rider's Olympic dream dashed

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — When they named the thoroughbred foal Heartbreak Hill, no one imagined just how much heartbreak there would be.

Heartbreak Hill, affectionately known as Harry, was to be the first South African-bred horse ever to compete in the Olympic Games. Harry’s rider, Paul Hart, was selected to compete in eventing, a grueling discipline a little like an equestrian triathlon that combines dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping.

Harry’s Olympic journey was a milestone in a country where the arduous quarantine for the deadly African horse sickness makes exporting horses for international competing expensive and difficult.

But the international Court of Arbitration for Sport on Saturday ordered South Africa to drop Hart, 45, from the competition in favor of Alex Peternell, 30, a South African rider based in Britain who had appealed his exclusion from the team. The CAS is top court for the resolution of sporting disputes.

No Hart, no Harry. Peternell will ride Asih, a German horse imported to Britain in January.

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Demolition of Nigerian shantytown leaves thousands homeless

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In the shadow of the Third Mainland Bridge in the Nigerian city of Lagos, fragile wooden huts have stood for decades on stilts above the water like long-legged birds. Beneath steaming traffic jams, the people of Makoko drift across the muddy lagoon in canoes, casting nets for fish.

But after giving residents 72 hours to leave their homes, state authorities began demolishing the shantytown a week ago. Community leader Timothy Huntoyanwha was shot to death by police Saturday as protesters resisted the demolitions, sparking new demonstrations Monday.

It's just the latest of many evictions of poor and marginalized communities in shantytowns as slum dwellers come under increasing pressure from property developers. Amnesty International has often criticized Nigerian authorities over the evictions.

This is not the first attempt to wipe out Makoko. Similar demolitions and evictions took place in 2005. In a notice of eviction earlier this month, Lagos authorities called the shantytown "unwholesome" and out of keeping with Lagos’ "megacity status." Lagos Gov. Babatunde Fashola said there were plans to build something much grander.

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