South African miners stage a sit-in near the village of Rustenburg, close to a platinum mine run by leading producer Lonmin, August 14, 2012.
South Africa’s defense minister has asked striking miners for forgiveness over the recent police shootings that left 34 of them dead during a recent protest.
Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula apologized to the miners on Tuesday while standing at the site of the incident, where hundreds of people earlier walked barefoot in a ritual ceremony to bless the place.
Her apology came a few days after police opened fire on a crowd of striking workers at the platinum giant Lonmin in the town of Marikana, about 114 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of the largest city of Johannesburg, on August 16, killing 34 miners and injuring 78 others.
The miners who had gathered outside the plant told the defense minister that they were angry at President Jacob Zuma, and asked why he did not come to address them.
The protesters even threatened not to support the country’s ruling African National Congress party in the next election.
“We agree, as you see us standing in front of you here, that blood was shed at this place. We agree that it was not something to our liking and, as a representative of the government, I apologize,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
“I am begging, I beg and I apologize, may you find forgiveness in your hearts,” she said after protesters began shaking plastic bags of bullet casings to give the minister an idea of the number of bullets fired by police last week.
“The blood that is boiling is not helping anyone here at all,” she added.
On Monday, the country’s mining authority retreated from its former threats of firing 3,000 of striking workers if they did not return to their work.
Mark Munroe, a top official at Lonmin, said in a statement on Tuesday that giving an ultimatum to the infuriated striking miners to get back to their work would not contribute to a more stable environment.
The miners, who are currently earning between 4,000 and 5,000 rands ($484-$605), have demanded that their salary be increased to 12,500 rands ($1,512).