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‘We fear for our lives in Marikana’

NUM and the ANC have boycotted the event commemorating the anniversary of Marikana.

Crosses on the koppie in Marikana, where 34 miners were killed in a standoff with police on 16 August 2012. Picture: Christa van der Walt/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says one of the reasons it has chosen to boycott the one year commemoration of the Marikana tragedy is because it is genuinely worried about its members' safety.

Thousands of miners are expected to gather in Marikana to remember their colleagues who were killed.

Today marks one year since 34 miners were gunned down and 78 others wounded during a standoff with police at Lonmin's Marikana Platinum Mine.

Ten other people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in strike-related violence. Lonmin miners had embarked on an unprotected strike to demand higher wages.

The Marikana standoff has been described as the bloodiest shootout in post-apartheid South Africa.

The African National Congress (ANC) and the NUM announced their withdrawal from the commemorations on Thursday night after it emerged the event was being organised by the Marikana Support Group and several opposition parties were due to speak.

The NUM's Lesiba Seshoka said the event had been "hijacked" from the office of the Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

"We had an agreement in place that the organising of this event would be led by the office of the Deputy President to ensure that all parties get an opportunity to participate in this event. Unfortunately, it has now been hijacked."

Speaking to Talk Radio 702's John Robbie on Friday morning, the NUM's General Secretary Frans Baleni said the union was left out of the organisation of the event.

"This commemoration was supposed to be led by religious groupings until these organisers hijacked it. We said we couldn't participate in a programme in which we aren't involved."

He said initially all stakeholders, including the NUM, the Association of Mineoworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the Chamber of Mines and Lonmin, had agreed on the event, but then plans suddenly changed this week.

"We all agreed. We only discovered during the week that it had been hijacked"

He said different people and organisations, including former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and the United Democratic Movement, will be speaking.

"Clearly this is a factional approach it's not about reconciliation."

He also accused Amcu of speaking about coming together for peace, while at the same time refusing to sign a framework agreement for the mining industry.

Baleni said he can't just put the issues aside and attend the event because he fears for his safety.

"We are not nitpicking; we have lost 21 people. One of the concerns which have been raising is our safety. There's a song people have been singing. How can we kill the NUM and its leaders?"

Baleni said organisers have lost control of the masses expected to attend.

"If they were controlling the masses we wouldn't have seen NUM victims day after day."

Meanwhile, the ANC said today's commemoration has not been organised by the workers and has been reduced to cheap political manoeuvring.

"There is no consensus among the workers. We don't understand why people would break the agreement. Even the organising team wasn't inclusive," said the ANC's Ishmael Mnisi.

LIVING IN FEAR

As the unions and politicians argue about their involvement and the organisation of the commemoration events, many miners say they still live in fear.

The turf war between unions Amcu and the NUM has left an atmosphere of uncertainty.

There has been an intense rivalry between the NUM and Amcu since last year, chiefly over majority recognition at Lonmin mines

Tensions in the area are still high after another worker was shot and killed on Monday.

The victim, a female shop steward affiliated to the NUM, was gunned down outside Lonmin's Rowland shaft on Monday.

It's still unclear who is responsible for her murder or how a firearm was brought onto the premises without being detected by security.

Fuellilng tensions further, Lonmin confirmed on Wednesday that Amcu is the majority union at its platinum mine and represents 60 percent of its employees.

A woman who lives in the area with her four children says her husband's life is always at risk.

"Even my husband is suffering. Because when he comes home from work at night he's not safe."

Click here for a visual journey of the Marikana story.