Still No Justice For The Marikana Massacre Victims

Aderonke Ajibade
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16th August 2012 was a sad day for South Africans.  On the afternoon of this day, members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) killed 34 men at Lonmin Plc. In addition to the 34 people killed on 16th August, 10 people were killed in incidents related to the conflict during the three day period from Sunday 12th – Tuesday 14th August. The killings on the 16th August  was called ‘the Marikana massacre’. The event followed a series of violent incidents between the South African Police Service, Lonmin security, a British company that owns the Marikana platinum mine in North West province, and members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on the one side and strikers themselves on the other gained a lot of international attention.

Marikana Massacre

According to the guardian report, early on the morning of Thursday 16 August, Joseph Mathunjwa head of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) met with Lonmin executives to sort out details of his plan for the strikers’ return to work. Unaware of the moves behind the scenes, he ran into a dead end: the company refused to discuss anything. On the koppie, the strikers saw 9am pass with no sign of the Amcu leader. At 9.30am, Mbombo, police commissioner then held a press conference in which she said nothing about Mathunjwa’s plan and declared simply: “We are ending the strike today.” At 10.30, still waiting for the Amcu leader, Mambush the strike leader saw police rolling out barbed wire in front of the koppie and angrily called on them to take it away. At noon, Mathunjwa came to the koppie, told the strikers he was getting nowhere and then went back to try again. Mambush tried to raise morale, talking to the strikers through a megaphone, his left hand beating the air, urging them to stay until Lonmin agreed to negotiate: “We are tired of being captive. We will decide who will remain here – either the police or us. You cannot have two bulls in the same kraal.” At 1.30pm, senior police met to discuss their plan to “disarm and disperse” the strikers. Ten minutes later, the Anglican bishop of Pretoria, Johannes Seoka, unexpectedly came to the koppie. Xolani says they asked him to send food and to urge Lonmin to speak to them. Xolani took his mobile phone number.

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In the Lonmin office, Mathunjwa tried to speak to Mbombo and was told she had left the building. He offered Lonmin a compromise deal on the strikers’ wage demand, but representatives of the company declined to meet him. At 3.30pm the Amcu leader came back to the koppie and spoke to the strikers with passion, at one point dropping to his knees: “Comrades, the life of a black person in Africa is so cheap … They will kill us, they will finish us and then they will replace us and continue to pay wages that cannot change black people’s lives. That would mean we were defeated and that the capitalists will win. But we have another way. We urge you – brothers, sisters, men – I am kneeling down – coming to you as nothing. Let us stop this bloodshed that the NUM allowed this employer to let flow. We do not want bloodshed!”

As he finished, hundreds of striking miners began to walk down from the koppie. Xolani was at the top and had been watching what looked like preparations for war: firearms being handed out; police vans with racks of coiled barbed wire; three helicopters circling. He called Mambush on his phone to warn him. Mambush was in a small group at the foot of the koppie. One of those alongside him was Mzoxolo Magidiwana, known as Mzo, he knew Mambush from football games at their villages in the Eastern Cape. He said that Mambush simply decided to lead the strikers away, saying “Don’t run. We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Mzo stayed close to Mambush as their group set off on the walk to the nearest shack settlement some 400 metres across the wasteland. Video of the scene shows hundreds of armed policemen moving around them. As the group approached the settlement, a police van raced across in front of them, uncoiling barbed wire, which blocked their path. Mambush led them to the left around a small animal enclosure, made of bushes and blackthorn trees. But as they reached the far side, with the settlement in front of them, more police vans blocked their path. There was tear gas. A water cannon opened fire. And then bullets, from behind and to their left. Mzo remembered them running to their right through a small gap between the enclosure and the settlement – straight into yet more bullets, this time from in front of them. He felt three bullets pierce his left side – in the buttock, ribs and elbow. He fell, saw others fall, saw Mambush go down, felt a fourth bullet in his right thigh as he squirmed on the ground. He lay still on his back. He said his legs would not move. The firing had stopped. Then two or three police officers were standing over him.

They started asking him about the sangoma whose sons had performed the traditional rituals for the strikers – who he was, where he was – and when he told them that he didn’t know, they shot him again in the right side of his ribs. They asked more questions, and then, he says, one of the officers kicked his legs apart and they shot him twice in the groin. Through the dust he could see Mambush, lying crashed downwards on his front, the green blanket tangled around one shoulder, his mouth slightly open, dust on his tongue.

From the top of the koppie, Xolani had watched the attack begin. At first he was going to follow Mambush. He remembered hearing the shooting, running into a miner called Liau, saying he could not see Mambush any more, saying that now they must go in the other direction, where there were a couple of smaller koppies to hide in. But Liau ignored him and ran towards the settlement. He was shot in the chest – one of 17 men who died there. Xolani went in the opposite direction, tearing off his jacket as he went, in case it identified him as a strike leader and a target.

For 15 minutes, there was no firing. Then two groups of officers closed in one of the two smaller koppies. Several dozen strikers were now hiding among its rocks and bushes. Police opened an explosion of intense fire – 295 bullets, many aimed from the top of the koppie down at the shapes of men huddling below. Seventeen more men died there. Police in one of the helicopters were lobbying stun grenades at fleeing miners.

On 16 August 2012, South African police opened fire on a large crowd of men who had walked out on strike from a platinum mine at Marikana, about 80 miles north of Johannesburg. They shot down 112 of them, killing 34.

Reason for the strike

The strikers claimed to be all rock-drill operators in Lonmin platinum mines and demanded a pay increase to R12 000 from R4 500. The strikers condemned Lonmin for paying outrageously low wages. However, Lonmin claimed it paid far more than R4 500 a month to rock-drill operators, closer to R10 000.

According to the miners, they lived in one-room shacks. Some of them are built of breeze blocks; most are patchworks of rusting corrugated iron tacked onto frames of timber torn from local trees. The shacks huddle together in groups of several hundred. There are no roads, only dirt tracks which that turn greasy in the rain. A few chickens peck the mud. Goats stroll by. Most of the shacks have no power (though some steal it on cables that sag among the washing lines). The mines have water, too, to wash the ore. But not the shacks: some of the men share a communal tap (though many of them have been broken for months); some drink straight from milky streams that run nearby.

The strike grew beyond a fight for wages, but the result of an internecine battle for membership between the established National Union of Mineworkers and a union that was stealing its members and presumably their membership dues, a not inconsiderable sum since the NUM allegedly has 300 000 members.  

The strikes spread from platinum belt to gold mines and iron mines. Soon 60 000 miners were on strike. Lonmin claimed that rock-drill operators earned close to R10 000 a month. And the question was it likely that hire-purchase payments had eaten into this wage leaving only R4 500?

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According to Lonmin, they  paid a living-out allowance of R1 500 a month on top of the wages it paid to rock drillers – in fact to everyone who preferred to live off site or could not get into the converted hostels now turned into family dwellings, nor into the brand new houses Lonmin was building. Deductions for pension contributions, possibly for medical aid as well, would also eat into basic pay.

Farlam Commission

After the massacre on the 17th of August, President Zuma appointed a Commission led by a retired judge to inquire into the events leading to the massacres. Hearing evidence from miners, their bosses and the police, and reviewing video, audio and paper records of the shooting and of the seven-day strike that preceded it, the commission came up with a report. The Commission submitted its report to President Zuma on 31st March 2015. On the evening of 25th June 2015, President Jacob Zuma finally released the report of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. Political figures were exonerated but Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s fitness for office was questioned. Those who committed the killings, both police and strikers, as well as Lonmin’s failure to protect employees, should be investigated, the commission found.

The Farlam inquiry uncovered fault on all sides: the opening violence by Lonmin and the NUM; a complete absence of investigation of that violence by the South African police service (Saps); barbaric behaviour by those strikers who had killed people who defied them; and an apparently callous decision by Lonmin. According to the Farlam inquiry “It appears that it was possible for Lonmin to close the mine in order to protect its workers but that for business reasons, it elected not to do so.”steer the strikers away from violence and back to their real aim, to negotiate a pay rise.

According to the report, the mine owners and managers were assumed to be mainly at fault. They were blamed for the fact that most miners lived in shacks close to the mine. Why did they not build houses for their workers? Why did they not provide sewers, piped water and electricity? They were rich enough. Profits were always high, weren’t they? Anyway, the platinum belonged to the people who were being exploited by the “bosses”.

Still No Justice

Even after reports from the commission, there is still no justice for those who lost their lives during these massacre. No one has been held accountable. While six police officers were charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the Marikana massacre, they were granted bail in March this year.

The current president of South Africa, Ramaphosa reportedly played a role in the massacre. He was a non-executive director at Lonmin during negotiations to halt the strike that led to the killings. He was declared free of any responsibility and guilt by the Farlam Commission.  He publicly apologised for his role in the massacre when he allegedly said in an email discussion between Lonmin management and government officials that events around the strike “are plainly dastardly criminal acts and must be characterised as such”. 

It is 6years now and this continues to be a bitter memory for the people of South Africa. The sad incident was carried out by policemen who ordinarily are to protect the people and supposedly orders were given by politicians who still walk freely on the streets of South Africa.

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