Anti-Apartheid Activists Mourn Killing of Striking Miners in S. Africa

August 21, 2012
Last Thursday, South African police forces opened fire on miners who were on strike protesting their wages. At least 34 have been declared dead at the hands of law enforcement. Although the circumstances surrounding the escalation of the conflict remain unclear, President Zuma has declared this a week of national mourning. Rabbi David Saperstein, along Rabbi Eric Yoffie (President Emeritus of the URJ), Al Vorspan (Senior Vice-President Emeritus of the URJ), Rabbi Israel S. Dresner (Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Anshe Amunim) and other former anti-apartheid activists, joined together in solidarity to send the following letter to President Zuma urging an immediate end to violence, calling upon all sides to cease and desist form provocative actions that may result in violence, and supporting the right to organize and petition the government peacefully. Read the entire letter below: Dear President Zuma, We, along with most in the world, woke up Friday morning to be shocked by the photographs we saw on the front pages of major newspapers.  The pictures of South African police firing on miners were shocking and deeply disturbing.  The toll of death and injuries, and the overall context of the incident, has generated in us a crisis of conscience.  We feel compelled to speak up and to seek an understanding of how the long road away from apartheid could have taken this turn. At the core of the fight against apartheid, a battle that the signatories of this letter were proud to join, was the fundamental belief in the equality and dignity of all persons; the right to work for a living wage without exploitation; freedom of speech and peaceful protest; freedom of association and the right to organize.  While the press coverage so far indicates that violence, fear and loose discipline marred the actions of both the miners and police, the South African Police must be held to the higher standard because of their superior fire-power, training and the obligations that come from acting under the mantle of the state and color of law. Mr. President, we welcome your announcement that there will be a commission of inquiry.  We look forward to it being both independent and transparent in its deliberations. South Africa has many success stories; South Africans have much of which to be proud.  Among them are one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, an independent and activist judiciary and millions of hard-working, resilient people. But, if nothing else, the story behind this strike and the horrendous violent events on Friday reveals the structural inequalities in South African society that persist years after the end of apartheid.  Even today, South Africa is among the most unequal countries in the world, in terms of disparities in income and individual wealth.  The extreme poverty of the townships festers. We urge an immediate end to the violence. We call upon all sides of this tragedy to cease and desist from provocative actions that may result in violence at this especially tense and sensitive time. At the same time, we support unequivocally the right to organize and to petition the government peacefully, through the exercise of free speech, for the resolution of legitimate grievances. Such principles are the hallmark of a democratic society. Anything less would be a betrayal of the South African ideal for which so many have fought and died. We speak as friends, as former anti-apartheid activists and in solidarity: Nicole Lee, President, TransAfrica Forum Danny Glover, Chairman, TransAfrica ForumRandall Robinson, Founding President of TransAfrica, Anti-Apartheid Leader, Authors Law Professor Wade Henderson, President, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO Arlene Holt –Baker, Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO Gay McDougall, International Human Rights Lawyer Mark Morial, President, National Urban League Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Debo Adegbile, Acting President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP LDF and Educational Fund Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania Fred Redmond, Executive Vice President, United Steelworkers William Lucy, Founding Past President, Coalition of Trade Unionists Harold Rogers, Chairman, International Affairs Committee, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Gary Flowers, Executive Director, Black Leadership Forum Angela Glover Blackwell, President, PolicyLink David Saperstein, Religious Action Center Ronald Dellums, Vice Chairman, JC Watts Companies Reverend Jesse Jackson, President, Rainbow Push Coalition Sylvia Hill, Board Member of TransAfrica Cecelie Counts, Anti-Apartheid Leader Adwoa Dunn-Mouton, Board Member of TransAfrica Joseph Jordan, Associate Professor, African and Afro-American Studies; Director, Sonja Haynes Stone Center Judith Lichtman, Chair, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Donna Katzin, Executive Director of Shared Interest Rabbi Israel S. Dresner, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Anshe Amunim Al Vorspan, Senior Vice-President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President Emeritus, Union for Reform Judaism James Early, Institute for Policy Studies Board of Advisors Maurice Jackson, Associate Professor of History and African-American Studies Image courtesy of the New York Times

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