Magic potion used in deadly South African Lonmin strike, witness says

Strike drags on in South Africa's troubled platinum belt as troubling evidence from a previous strike emerges

At a South African government hearing Friday on the police shooting of 34 striking miners in 2012, a witness said that striking union members had sought to make themselves invulnerable to police weaponry by ingesting a traditional potion made from dead sheep and the burned flesh of two dead mine security guards.

The police witness, identified before the commission of inquiry only as Mr. X, said the miners paid am inyanga, a traditional healer, about $100 to make a potion that would give them strength and courage to stand up to police and "lock" police guns if the officers tried to shoot.

The testimony in the August 2012 platinum mine strike violence comes as an even longer platinum strike, also undertaken by the fledgling Assn. of Mineworkers and Construction Union, continues.

The current strike, which began Jan. 23, has reportedly cost mining companies and workers more than $3 billion in lost wages and revenues. It appeared on the verge of settlement last week, after the miners accepted a wage offer in principle. But new demands this week remain unsettled.

The commission hearing on the 2012 strike was set up by South African President Jacob Zuma to determine whether police were justified in opening fire on miners in August 2012 at Marikana, a settlement in South Africa’s platinum belt, northwest of Johannesburg.

Thirty-four miners died and more than 70 were wounded when police fired on the strikers from Lonmin mine  The shootings came after 10 others, including two police officers and two Lonmin security guards, were killed in violence in the mining community.

The miners were shot during an operation to move them off a hill near the Lonmin mine. Witnesses have testified that some of the miners were shot in the back, contradicting police statements that the miners were shot as they charged toward police.

Police officials have said that they had no choice but to shoot because the miners were armed and ran toward officers.

Lonmin’s workers are also involved in the current strike along with workers for Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum.

The protected police witness provided his testimony Friday via video from a remote location because the evidence was incriminating to other miners. His face was shown in the court but advocates, journalists and others present were ordered not to reveal his identity.

Mr. X is viewed  as the most important police witness, because his testimony suggests that the striking miners were armed and willing to kill.

He said the striking miners decided to kill officials and members of the National Union of Mineworkers. They also attacked and killed the two Lonmin security guards, Hassan Fundi and Frans Mabelani, in the days before the confrontation with police.

Dali Mpofu, advocate for the striking miners, has described Mr. X as a habitual liar.

Mr X, a rock drill operator who participated in the 2012 job action, said the traditional healer had two sheep  tied up in sheets and thrown live into a fire. The inyanga then made muti, a traditional potion, by mixing liquid from the sheep carcasses with burned flesh from the bodies of the two Lonmin guards, Mr. X testified.

After the sheep were burned, 200 striking miners cleansed themselves in a river. Later, the witness said, they gathered on a small rocky hill, cutting their bodies with razor blades and rubbing the cuts with the muti. The inyanga told the strikers they must not betray the secrets of the hill, and gave them certain rules, including that they must abstain from sex for a week, and avoid water, pork, lamb and fish.

“It was said, ‘Men will be made men.’ We were told that incisions would be made on our bodies. Secrets of the mountain had to end there. We were given rules to follow,” he testified.

The inyanga also spooned ashes from the bodies of the Lonmin guards into the mouths of miners, who formed a line for the muti, he testified in an affidavit.

“After this the inyangas told us that they had accomplished their mission in protecting us from police bullets, made us fearless, strong and invisible to police,” the affidavit said.

Mr. X said  that some of the miners on the hill carried guns, but were ordered by the inyanga not to open fire until police fired the first shot.

The 2012 strike occurred when the Assn. of Mineworkers and Construction Union emerged to challenge the existing union. The AMCU, which now represents the majority of platinum miners, is also at the center of the current strike.

Two Lonmin workers, members of the National Union of Mineworkers, who tried to go to work last month were killed. The company said their employees  were being intimidated and threatened.

During Friday’s hearing, Mr X asked for a break, claiming that miners in the commission gallery were using muti against him. The inquiry  was adjourned until Monday to allow him to consult a traditional healer.

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