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THE death toll in Thursday's shooting of striking miners at LonÂmin Mine in Rustenburg, South Africa, has risen to 34, prompting President Jacob Zuma to cut short his stay at the ongoing Sadc Summit in Mozambique.
It was not clear at the time of going to Press last night whether Sadc had discussed the Rustenburg massacre.
At least 78 people were injured as police battled to quell the violent protest.
South African police have since arrested over 259 striking workers.
The shooting has sparked outrage with labour unions describing it as "unwarranted and ruthless".
President Zuma, the outgoing chairÂman of the Sadc Organ on PoliÂtics, Defence and Security Co-operaÂtion, was scheduled to brief the full summit on progress in the impleÂmentation of Zimbabwe's Global Political AgreeÂment.
He had briefed the Sadc Troika on the same issue late Thursday night.
It was not clear yesterday evening whether President Zuma, the Sadc-appointed facilitator to the GPA negoÂtiations, had managed to brief the full summit on Zimbabwe before his hasty departure. He had earlier attended the openÂing ceremony, which ended just after midday.
"The President asked the new Sadc chairperson President (Armando) Guebuza of Mozambique and his colÂleagues, the Sadc Heads of State and Government, to release him so that he can go and attend to the matters at home," the South African Presidency said in a statement.
South African police opened fire on the striking Lonmin PLC platÂinum mineworkers in Marikana, RustenÂburg, after they reportedly ignored orders to disperse.
South African police commisÂsioner Riah Phiyega defended the shooting yesterday saying the officers were â€œforced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves" after they were attacked by armed protesters.
The protestors were reportedly armed with machetes and sticks.
The police used water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades to try and quell the violence.
Trouble began when police were layÂing out barbed wire barricades to sepaÂrate the 3 000 striking drill operÂators into "smaller groups more manÂageable for police to disarm", Ms Phiyega said.
South Africaâ€™s Sowetan newspaper quoted the president of Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union Joseph Mathunjwa as saying the death of the mine workers was tragic.
"I told them to leave . . . I pleaded, I pleaded," he told reporters in JohanÂnesburg.
Tears rolled down his cheeks as he recounted the events that led to the death of the 34 protesters.
He said workers had earlier refused to leave, vowing to stay on the hill even if they were killed.
"We got in our cars and left . . . After a few minutes, the phone rang (about the shooting)," said Mr Mathunjwa.
"I wanted to turn back and go and die with my comrades."
Using a handkerchief to wipe his eyes, he said Amcu leaders went to the hilltop, where the protesters had gathÂered, before the shooting without a police or security escort, or any superÂvision.
Mr Mathunjwa said he pleaded with the workers twice to leave the hilltop, near the mine where workers had gathered, but they refused.
"They wanted R12 500 (a month)," he said.
Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions secretary-general Mr Bernard Danda said dialogue was the best soluÂtion to labour disputes.
â€œIt is time African governments see the importance of negotiations over salaries and working conditions.
â€œThis is disturbing and reminiscent of the apartheid era. Companies should be committed to dialogue than launching, through police, ruthÂless attacks on innocent workers.
â€œThese are the workers that make them realise profits and there is no need of killing them."
Secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Mr Japhet Moyo said it was clear police officers in southern Africa needed training in disÂpute resolution.
"We are not happy with what has happened because labour issues are bread and butter issues and have nothÂing to do with politics," he said.
"Police and management of comÂpanies need to refer to systems in their countries which are used to end conÂflict."
Mr Moyo said the South African police should have applied "miniÂmum force".
"You cannot control violence with violence. This is a matter which could have been resolved without using force.
â€œIf investigations reveal that the police were wrong, then the families should be compensated with tangible things and if the strikers were wrong then it's another case."
Employers' Confederation of ZimÂbabwe president Mr Anthony MandiÂwanza said workers and employees should avoid confrontation in labour disputes.
"This is extremely unfortunate because it has resulted in loss of lives," he said.
"It is important that life is preÂserved through negotiations. DiaÂlogue always stops people from conÂfronting each other. What triggered the situation is not known, but this is not the best way to end a labour dispute."
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