Ban Use of Armed Drones as Riot Control

south african mining strike

Target: Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa

Goal: Call on the President to ban the use of armed, unmanned aircraft as riot control against striking miners and other civilians

A 2012 miner’s strike in South Africa ultimately claimed 44 lives, most of them miners, when police and mining security forces violently clashed with workers.  The Washington Post called it worst use of violence by the government against civilians since the end of apartheid. Since then workers have staged ongoing actions to protest low wages and unsafe working conditions. An unnamed mining company is now seeking to protect its profits at any cost by ordering armed, unmanned aircraft for use as riot control.

The Skunk drones have in fact been marketed as “riot control copters.” They are armed with solid plastic and pepper spray bullets as well as “blinding lasers,” according to BBC News. They have the capacity to hold thousands of bullets, and to fire up to 20 per second. The company that manufactures them, Desert Wolf, said in a statement that there have been many parties interested in purchasing its drones. “Some [are] mines in South Africa, some security companies in South Africa and outside South Africa, some police units outside South Africa and a number of other industrial customers.”

Human rights groups and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have expressed serious concerns about the use of armed drones against civilians. Tim Noonan, ITUC spokesperson, agrees that “This is a deeply disturbing and repugnant development and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations.”

Call on the South African President to ban the use of all armed drones against strikers, protestors and other civilians in his country.


Dear President Zuma,

The world was grieved to learn of the violence that occurred during the Marikana miners’ strike. Dozens of lives were lost, and clearly the prevention of future tragedies like this should be a top priority. Unfortunately, mining companies appear to be taking maters into their own hands by purchasing armed drones for use in future riot control situations.

Mr. President, I am deeply disturbed by the thought of companies firing plastic bullets into crowds. While these weapons are marketed as a non-lethal solution there is a great deal of evidence to show that plastic bullets and even pepper spray can be deadly when fired at close range. There is no justification for the use of such force.

I call on you to work together with striking miners and mine operators to achieve a peaceful resolution without resorting to the use of violence. Please ban the use of armed, unmanned drones against civilian targets by corporations and state security forces.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: V-Bake via the Atlanta Black Star

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