South African bishops condemn mine violence, offer counseling

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The Catholic bishops’ conference of South Africa has called for an inquiry into working conditions of a mine and condemned a related police crackdown that took the lives of 34 people and injured 78.

“The senseless loss of life especially through wanton violence is always a tragedy and needs to be condemned in the strongest terms,” Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg said in an Aug. 17 statement.

Archbishop Tlhagale, who serves as the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, condemned the lethal force used by police to disperse a 3,000-person protest at a mine about 50 miles outside of Johannesburg.

“We cannot allow this violence to escalate and become a normal part of our society,” he said.

Since last week, workers at the world’s third-largest platinum mine have been demonstrating for better pay and safer working conditions.

Archbishop Tlhagale has called for a formal inquiry of the actions of the police, mine owners and the labor unions involved in the violence.

Police said that they were forced to shoot the protesters, some of whom were armed with machetes and clubs, to defend themselves.

All parties involved should use “effective mechanisms” rather than violence to reach an agreement to this “tragic situation,” the archbishop said.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who was out of the country in Mozambique at the time of the police operation, expressed his surprise over the violence.

The president announced a week of mourning, beginning Aug. 20, and also the launch of a judicial commission of inquiry into the violence.
 
The bishop’s conference has offered assistance in the form of “trauma counseling and community healing” to the larger South African community in light of the events.

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