South African police killed 35 striking miners at Lonmin’s Marikana mine on August 16, 2012. Machete-wielding men charged a line of police officers trying to disperse them. Police opened fire with automatic weapons. Others were injured so the death toll may climb.

“This is a labor matter and it remains a labor matter,” said Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s police minister. “No people should go around with weapons. The workers were erecting barbed wire, there was a militant group with guns, the police used water cannons and rubber bullets, but people were firing guns.”

Thousands of miners had gathered at the Marikana mine, which had halted production after fighting between rival unions had taken the lives of eight miners and two police officers. Police at the scene said they had been trying to negotiate with the striking rock-drill operators massed on a rocky outcrop near the mine, but the talks failed. The illegal strike and a protest march began August 10.

“We are treating the developments around police operations with the utmost seriousness,” said Lonmin Chairman Roger Phillimore. “The South African Police Service (SAPS) have been in charge of public order and safety on the ground since the violence between the competing labor factions erupted…It goes without saying that we deeply regret the further loss of life in what is clearly a public order rather than labor relations associated matter.”

Phillimore was speaking on behalf of the company as Ian Farmer, CEO, Lonmin, has been hospitalized with a serious illness.

Bheka Sibiya, chief executive of the South African Chamber of Mines has expressed deep regret on the unfortunate deaths in Marikana. “Our deepest condolences go to all the families of those people who have lost their loved ones in this unfortunate incident,” Sibiya said. The Chamber took the initiative to engage the leadership of both unions, the NUM and AMCU, requesting they come to the Chamber immediately to discuss their differences with the aim of reaching an amicable and peaceful resolution. The leadership of both labor organizations agreed to send their representatives to a meeting that was scheduled to take place today [August 17, 2012]. Regrettably this meeting was cancelled due to the non-availability of one of the unions. Efforts to bring the miners together continue.

Lonmin is one of the world’s largest primary producers of platinum group metals. It operates 11 shafts on the Bushveld Complex in South Africa.