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S.African families still searching for news on mine victims

By Johannes Myburgh

MARIKANA, South Africa (AFP) - Ntaoleng Thato's face was tense with worry as she walked to the small caravan outside a miners' hospital to check the casualties list from Thursday's police shootings.

The barrage of gunfire during a strike at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine left 34 people dead and 78 wounded, while 259 have been jailed -- and many families are unsure which fate has befallen their missing loved ones.

Thato hasn't seen her brother, 65-year-old Thabiso Mosebetsane, since Thursday morning. His four children have been crying since they realised that he hadn't returned from the site of the mass shooting.

The area was quickly declared a crime scene and sealed off, so they couldn't view the bodies.

Their dread grew as Friday passed without news, and fear and sadness have hung heavily over the shack where they live, on top of one of the world's richest platinum reserves.

"I was crying because his children were crying," said 38-year-old Thato.

Mosebetsane's wife left early Saturday for the mortuary. Thato came to the hospital, where other grieving relatives were trickling through.

The London-listed mine company, Lonmin, has pledged to help identify and bury the bodies, while promising the victims' families that their children will be educated through university.

The list of casualties now sits in the caravan outside Lonmin's Andrew Saffy Hospital.

For Thato's family, losing her brother as breadwinner would be a crushing blow that would ripple through an entire community.

As she gathered all her courage to finally take a look at the list, she breathed a sigh of relief.

"I didn't find him. They tell me he's in jail," she said. "I was worried but now I feel all right."

For many others, the search continues.

"There's someone I haven't seen, and I can't reach him on the phone," said Ian Buhlungu, 47, whose friend Ngcwangula Lubuzo went to the hill on Thursday to hear news from the mine managers.

"He didn't come back," said Buhlungu.

They come from Eastern Cape province, at the opposite end of the country, where Lubuzo's wife is waiting for news, but Buhlungu doesn't know where they live or how to contact her.

Fearing the worst, he has avoided the hospital list so far.

Many of the 28,000 employees at the Marikana mine have no relatives nearby.

In a nation with nearly 25 percent unemployment, people travel huge distances -- some from neighbouring countries -- to look for work in these dusty but mineral-rich hills.

Living in squalid shacks of wood and corrugated metal, they don't have running water and use pit latrines.

This life is still better than the poverty they endured in the Eastern Cape, South Africa's most impoverished region where some schools still teach children under trees.

Migrant labour has built South Africa's mining industry for more than a century, unearthing riches of gold, platinum and diamonds, often while paying miners meagre wages.

The wildcat strike by about 2,000 of the Marikana miners has been in demand of a tripling of their current monthly wage of 4,000 rand ($486, 400 euros) a month.

By South African standards, they are fortunate. A report last week said 39 percent of the population lives on less than 432 rand per month.

If Buhlungu's friend is dead, he will be buried in the green rolling hills of their town Libode.

"We are going to ask aid from the mine so we can take him home," he said.

To err is a weakness; to forgive, even more cowardly.
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