Comrades and families of 34 miners shot dead by South African police marked the first anniversary of the bloodbath at Marikana on Friday in a rally boycotted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
An estimated 10,000 people gathered at the foot of the outcrop where on Aug. 16 last year police unleashed a 284-bullet barrage that plunged South Africa into crisis and shocked the world.
The owner of the Marikana platinum mine was among those attending the commemorations and for the first time publicly apologized to the relatives of the slain workers.
“We will never replace your loved ones, and I say we are truly sorry for that,” Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara said. “It should not have taken so many lives for us... as a nation to learn that this should not have happened and this should never happen again.”
The peaceful crowd, including workers wearing green trade union T-shirts and wielding sticks, chanted and danced, while some of the widows fought back tears as a roll call of the dead was read out.
The ANC did not attend the event, which it said had become politicized when organizers invited a militant mining union and opposition leaders to speak.
With many members of the ANC serving on the boards of mining firms and the government firmly defending police tactics, observers say members of the party may not have been welcome.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who launched a state inquiry into the shooting deaths but has studiously avoided becoming publicly involved in it, was in Malawi ahead of a regional summit.
Populist firebrand Julius Malema, a former ANC youth leader who recently launched his own political party, tore into his former allies at the commemoration event, blaming the ANC and the owners of the Marikana platinum mine for the violence.
“Lonmin and ANC have killed our people. You have blood on your hands,” Malema, sporting a revolutionary red beret, said to loud applause.
No one has been held responsible for the 34 deaths, and with fury still raw, police in riot vans kept their distance while helicopters circled overhead during the six-hour service.
The day of violence at the Marikana mine is seen by many as the worst since apartheid in the country ended in 1994.
Lonmin boss Magara said the London-listed firm would pay for the schooling of the slain mineworkers’ 147 children.
Many of those present said the low wages and poor living standards that sparked the upwelling of anger last year remain unchanged.
“These people died for nothing,” said Gabriel Shakhane, 42, a migrant miner from Lesotho.
The Lonmin-sponsored commemoration event was organized by a group linked to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has fought a sometimes bloody battle for power with the ANC-allied National Union of Mineworkers.
Several assassinations have taken place over the past year, with union leaders from both sides dying amid the battle for supremacy.
However, police said Friday’s event passed without a major incident.