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Marikana Massacre – An Avoidable Episode
Marikana Massacre – An Avoidable Episode

By - Victoria Akindele

Posted - 15-08-2019

Images of massacre from the old apartheid era were revived in the minds of South Africans on Aug. 16, 2012, when the South African Police Service (SAPS) opened fire on a large crowd of striking mine workers at Marikana, about 80 miles north of Johannesburg (the North West Province). They shot down 112 of them, killing 34 and leaving 78 seriously injured. In any country, this would have been a traumatic moment as it most definitely was for South Africans.

READ ALSO: JUNE 16 The Soweto Massacre: Remembering the sacrifice

The Beginning
This event culminated after an intense week-long protest in which the miners were demanding a wage increase at the Lonmin platinum mine in a wildcat strike. A wildcat strike, or ‘unofficial industrial action’, is strike action undertaken by unionised workers without the union-leadership’s authorisation, support, or approval.

The strike was launched, on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, when about three thousand rock-drill operators employed to work for relatively meagre pay in potentially dangerous and stiflingly hot conditions for the well-resourced and politically well-connected British mining company, Lonmin assembled themselves at the Wonderkop football stadium, near the administrative buildings at the centre of the mine complex, demanding an increase in their living wage. Lonmin security men asked police who were watching to disperse the strikers. The police reportedly said the strikers were not causing any trouble. Lonmin security then opened fire with rubber bullets, firing more than 40 rounds at the strikers.

The Cause

On Aug. 10, 2012, a large group of the striking miners approached the National Union for Miners (NUM) local office in order to demand support from their union, and were instead met with the firing of live ammunition, fatally wounding two miners. The protesters were being paid roughly $400 a month while Lonmin announced annual profits of $273m for its shareholders in 2011, the year before the massacre. Also, it was heard that the rock-drill operators at the Impala platinum mine, 30 miles away near the town of Rustenburg, had emerged from a long and sometimes violent strike with new pay rates, while they remained on 4,000 to 5,000 rand a month (£215-270), and they were angry. They demanded 12,500 rand (£670) and agreed they would not turn up for work the next day.

This fatal breakdown in communication between the miners and their union further aggravated a volatile situation, in which the miners and their families were desperately trying to have their voices heard and their needs met. The miners were unable to attain a meeting with NUM or Lonmin representatives and events became increasingly militaristic.

From August 12 to 14, at least four miners, two police officers and two security guards died in the ensuing violence and on August 13, 30 miners were delegated to cross the veld (field) that separated them from another Lonmin platinum mine, Karee, where miners were also undergoing a wildcat strike. The 30 miners were forced by security to turn back without being allowed to meet with miners on the other side. On their way back they were met with a contingent of police. Eye-witness reports say there were about 10 nyalas (military police vans) and two police trucks. The police barred their way and told them to lay down their weapons (machetes also known as pangas), to which the workers refused, saying they needed the pangas for everyday living in the ‘bush’.

The police allowed the miners to continue, but once they were about 10 metres away, the police allegedly began to open gun fire (rubber bullets and later live ammunition) on them, and the miners retaliated. At that moment, the provincial chief of the South African police service, Lt Gen Mirriam Zukiswa Mbombo, was sitting with Lonmin managers, monitoring the strikers on CCTV. Mbombo had joined the police in 1980 and risen fast through the ranks after the end of apartheid. She set up a joint operations centre in Lonmin’s office, where, according to evidence at the Farlam inquiry, her officers were working not only with the company but also with NUM officials who were helping them to identify strike leaders.

Police video shows that all was peaceful for several minutes, until some officers lobbed tear gas and stun grenades at the strikers. Nobody has ever established whether they were ordered to do this. The result was a disaster. Two policemen and two miners were killed in this battle, and some retained severe injury.
Barnard Mokwena, then Lonmin’s executive vice president, wrote an internal memo, which was later disclosed to the Farlam inquiry, advising that the company should not tolerate demands that were “outside the collective bargaining structure”. The strikers who were rejected their own union (NUM), accused it of supporting the bosses. Since the union was not involved, the company could choose not to recognise the strike and not to negotiate. Mokwena urged that instead of talking, the company should sack the strikers and call in the police to deal with them.

Nevertheless, the strike continued despite gaining no support from NUM and receiving no official commitment from Lonmin management to enter into negotiations. The miners continued to strike in solidarity for their common goal, which is a better quality of life and the dignity it affords. The families of the striking miners were also in general solidarity with the protest and worked to support the movement, joining in protest action and bringing supplies when necessary.

Since these issues were not formally addressed by the NUM or by Lonmin during the protest, many of the strikers instead began losing their jobs and the protesters were met with unrelenting hostility by security, the police, and union personnel and management.

The D-day

On August 16, a full frontal attack was launched on them. More than 400 police were deployed, most in camouflage military gear and armed with R5s, a licensed replica of the Israeli Galil SAR, or LM5 assault rifles, designed for infantry and tactical police use. A barb wire fence was set along the outside perimeter to close the miners in, and military police vehicles and helicopters were deployed on the scene. The police were deployed in a manner that caused concern among the strikers but it was considered by many that they were not in any real danger. About a dozen miners were caught on camera being shot at directly, and this footage has received global attention and outrage. However most of the miners who were killed and injured were not caught on camera, with some of the miner’s bodies reportedly discovered behind boulders and in retreat. Many of the slain and injured had gunshots in their backs and there were miners who were found with injuries of being ridden over by nyalas.

Investigation and Analysis
Addressing a press conference, SAPS authorities claimed its officers opened fire on the miners in self-defence, after the miners attempted to attack them using machetes, spears and clubs.

The Marikana Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the massacre of miners at Marikana. The commission’s first seating was on Oct. 1, 2012, its final sitting was on Nov. 14, 2014, and its report was submitted by President Zuma on Mar. 31, 2015.

The report absolved the key political figures who were accused of having a hand in the events leading to the massacre, including Deputy State President Cyril Ramaphosa who at the time of the massacre was a non-executive director at Lomnin, former Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, former Mineral Resource Minister Susan Shabangu and the National Police Commissioner Ria Phiyega. It also found that Lonmin had failed to engage with workers and trade unions operating in that sector, NUM and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), were found not to have had full control of its members who embarked on the unprotected strike.

Former North West deputy police commissioner William Mpembe and his three co-accused appeared in the North West High Court on charges of contravening the Commission Act, contravening the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act and defeating the ends of justice. They allegedly failed to disclose that mineworker Modisaotsile van Wyk Sagalala died in police custody on the premises of the Lonmin mine on Aug. 16, 2012. He was charged along with Gideon Van Zyl, Dingaan Madoda and Oupa Pule, his co-accused.

Van Zyl, Madoda and Pule are accused of defeating the ends of justice and contravention of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) Act.

Mine owners Lonmin, issued a statement following the shootings expressing regret for the loss of life, stressing the responsibility of the police for security during the strike and disassociating the violence from the industrial dispute. Lonmin also said that the strikers must return to work on August 20, or possibly be dismissed. Simon Scott, Lonmin’s acting chief executive, following the incident said that the company needed to “rebuild the Lonmin brand and rebuild the platinum brand”. Workers rejected the company ultimatum to return to work and vowed to go ahead with their protests until their demands for wage increases were, as it would be an “insult” to the dead otherwise. Lonmin then extended the deadline by 24 hours, as Zuma called for a mourning period.

When the strike began, Lonmin halted production and said that it was unlikely to fulfill its full-year guidance of 750,000 ounces (approx 21.25 metric tonnes) of platinum. Lonmin said it will have to monitor its bank debt levels due to the disruption. Lonmin’s capacity to refinance its debt was also questioned.

However, the massacre has led to renewed public calls for wide-spread reform in the extractives industry in South Africa, the establishment of a new political party – the Economic Freedom Fighters – in South Africa’s party political space among some other positive effects.

READ ALSO: The Mau Mau Uprising

Thus, Marikana has, in many ways, become a political symbol for the need for change, amidst state apathy.


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