South African police opened fire on a crowd of striking miners on Thursday, killing 34 people and leaving a field strewn with bodies in a massacre that instantly revived memories of the brutality of apartheid. At a press conference Friday, the South African Police Service claimed its officers had been under attack by a group of miners armed with machetes, spears and clubs when they opened fire with automatic weapons into a crowd a few meters away. They added that 78 strikers had been injured and 259 arrested.
Regardless of whether the police were provoked, the shooting of demonstrators automatically invoked memories of massacres of protesters carried out by South African forces under apartheid, which ended in 1994.
Calling for the suspension of all police officers involved pending charges of murder and/or culpable homicide, the independent think-tank, the South African Institute for Race Relations, said television reports clearly showed "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." Referring to the security services' notorious killing of 69 anti-apartheid protesters in March 1960, it added: "This is reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. What happened at Lonmin is completely unacceptable."