Lonmin Shoot-out: A Flashpoint For South Africa

The biggest story in Africa right now is the killing of at least 34 striking miners near Lonmin in South Africa.

Opinion has been divided over what happened. Some say the police used excessive violence while others felt that the service was justified and could not have done anything differently. There are still others who do not know what to think.

The police say they were left with no option. The question over who fired first is not answered. There have been those who believe that the police could have used rubber bullets. Others maintain that the handling of the whole situation was bad.

An investigation will undoubtedly be carried out over what happened and what could have been differently.

What is a certainty is that this will be a flashpoint against rising tensions between the unsettled masses and a cabal of rich, generally white, owners of the economy.

The buzz around is now “Revolt Of The Urban Poor.” The scenes are reminiscent of the apartheid times when the powerless majority stood up against an establishment that was protected by the barrel of a gun and the huge machinery behind it. Yes, some of them may have been thugs and criminals but 6,000 people were demonstrating against a system that didn’t care for them.

We are not going to lay blame at the door of the police on this one. Ten lives had already been lost in the strike action -two of them from the uniformed forces brutally hacked to death –  so this was a never a situation that was going to be dealt with kid gloves. None of the policemen going out there were going out to kill people.

It is the machinery behind the system that protects a CEO sitting in Sandton is fighting to maintain the status quo, making sure the masses continue to be disenfranchised. That is the machinery responsible for this tragedy.

Treating this event in isolation as the hand of a few police officers fighting a mob will paper over the social and economic cracks of a hugely divided South African society.  Lonmin will be symptoms of an anger that has been festering and has simply reached boiling point.

44 lives have been lost because the economy is bad. There may be more losses. Last night there were sofas in households that remained empty. Livelihoods were lost fighting for a better life.

How all this is handled going forward will decide whether Lonmin will never happen again.