Up to 20 miners were executed by security guards on the East Rand in South Africa on Monday.
The Grootvlei gold mine is owned by Aurora Empowerment Systems whose chair is the nephew of South African president Jacob Zuma.
Witnesses say security guards opened fire without warning on a group of miners that they thought were “illegal”—not employed by the company.
One of the survivors, 25 year-old Sam Sithole, took journalists from the Sowetan newspaper to find the bodies. Sam described how he had pretended to be dead while security guards shone a torch in his face.
“I thought I was going to die,” Sam told journalists. “There was gunfire all over. I did not know whether to go forward or backwards. I saw one of my brothers fall. I decided to run.”
Sam showed the journalists the bodies of his siblings Medias, 29, and Kenneth, 30.
He said they had been going down that shaft since April this year, looking for gold.
“We were about a kilometre down and were beginning to look around for gold concentration when three white men suddenly appeared. They spoke another language, but I managed to hear what they said. That is when I knew that death was going to strike.”
He said one of the men spoke in Afrikaans saying “skiet almal” (shoot everyone) before they opened fire.
The bodies were left to rot underground. A journalist said, “One of the bodies, that of a half-naked young man, had a gaping bullet wound in the chest.”
There has been rising anger at the mine where workers have been paid piece-meal wages and been forced to live in appalling conditions.
Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), said that workers at the mine “were left to fend for themselves in filthy hostels with no electricity and water and depended on upstream water contaminated with mine acid.”
The National Union of Mineworkers has called for an urgent investigation into the killings, irrespective of whether the workers were “illegal” or not.