President Jacob Zuma's government had planned a unifying day of prayer and reflection to commemorate the killings by police last year of 34 striking platinum workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine. The deadliest incident of its kind since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, it shocked South Africans and the world.
But just hours before the planned commemoration went ahead yesterday at the mine north-east of Johannesburg, a government spokeswoman said no one from Zuma's government would appear. More than one dozen seats for cabinet ministers on the main stage were empty when ceremonies started.
Zuma, who faces an election next year, has come under fire from critics over the government's clumsy handling of what has come to be known as the "Marikana massacre", including questions over alleged police brutality.
The Marikana killings were among 60 deaths during a wave of illegal strikes and labour violence in the country's mines that started last year and spilled over into this year. The violence helped trigger credit downgrades for Africa's biggest economy and dented the image of the ANC government.
The ANC said it would not participate in memorial because the event was being organised by a Marikana support group, which includes the hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.