By Ray Fleming

The distressing scenes of the bereaved families at the memorial service for the 34 miners killed and 78 injured by police action at the Marikane titanium mine in South Africa seemed to symbolise the anger and frustration that vast numbers of South Africans today feel at the inequality and poverty that surrounds them. President Jacob Zuma has set up a commission of inquiry into the causes of the strikes called by the miners and the sequence of events in which both sides -- miners and police -- claim that the other fired weapons first.

In many countries miners and their unions are an indicator of the broader industrial health; in South Africa the National Union of Miners, affiilated to the governing African National Congress has been a powerful influence but in the case of the titanium mine dispute found itself challenged by a rival Association of Mineworkers. The claim for a tripling of income for key workers came at a time that most mining in South Africa is in decline and when investors are nervous of the government's tendency to introduce arbitrary and retrospective regulations. There are personal dimensions to the current trouble, too; the new Association of Mineworkers is led by Julius Malema, a charismatic challenger to Jocob Zuma's leadership of the ANC.

South Africa is the bellwether for much of the continent -- an increasingly difficult role to play.