Marikana mine massacre revisited

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

With the sun setting behind them, Lonmin mineworkers this week retraced their steps across a field where their co-workers lay dead on August 16.

Almost 250 workers from the Lonmin platinum mine, in the North West province’s Marikana town, recalled to their lawyer Dali Mpofu what transpired on the killing field next to the mine.

Mpofu is set to represent the workers at the government-appointed Farlam Commission of Inquiry which resumes on Monday (October 22) in Rustenburg, North West province. The commission was postponed after a false start earlier this month.

The commission is intent on uncovering the truth behind the police shootings of at least 34 Lonmin mineworkers who were on strike for salary increases.

Jim Nichol, a London-based criminal lawyer, is meanwhile working with the Association of Minerals and Construction Union (Amcu) on its defence at the commission.

Amcu has been blamed for instigating strikes as a means to gain support from mineworkers who have lost faith in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Nichol said this week that he was intent to prove to the commission that “this shooting was one big crime”.

“We know that there is lots of video that has not been seen by the public. We have been served with the indexes of documents held by the other parties. The police and Lonmin have video and we will view that,” said Nichol.

“The police will likely argue that they acted in self-defence. We’ll be seeking to show that it’s not self-defence if you see a man with ten bullets in him or a man who was shot in the back. We will also look at post-mortem reports.”

Nichol said they intended to prove that this “decision was taken two or three days prior to August 16” by police bosses and even President Jacob Zuma.

While the commission unpacks the killings, some of Lonmin’s 28,000 workers will likely still be on strike. They downed tools again this week, after being back at work for a month. This time around they are striking against alleged harassment.

One Lonmin mineworker, who did not want to be named, told Weekend Argus this week that “workers felt unsafe”. Speaking inside his tiny shack – which has no electricity, toilet or running water – this worker said that recent arrests were conducted by the “police and people who are pretending to be the police”.

“Everything is worse than before. Some of us have been targeted and taken from our homes. We are also mistreated at work by the managers. You can’t walk freely,” said the mineworker.

He said that most workers were ready to go back on strike because they had not yet seen salary increases. He said he earned R4,000 a month and wanted a basic R12,500 salary so that he could help his wife, three children and family in the Eastern Cape. He also needed to pay rent and cover his expenses in Marikana.

“They said we will get an increase. It was supposed to be in (our bank accounts). It’s not in yet. If we are still getting the same amount as before we will all go back to the koppie and strike.”

The koppie he referred to is the rocky surface next to Lonmin’s operation in Marikana where workers gathered to resist the company’s unwillingness to increase their salaries. Workers ran from the koppie across an open field as police chased after them on August 16.

Lonmin’s strikers along with mineworkers from other mines defied Zuma’s call this week for them to return to work and keep the country’s economy going. They resolved to stay on strike until their salary demands were met.

Lonmin is in a region where mineworker strikes have spread rapidly after its initial action. Samancor chrome mine in Mooinooi, located 8km from Marikana, this week saw strikers gathering at two of its four operations in the province. Strikers were peaceful. Police presence was strong.

Some Samancor mineworkers were arrested on Tuesday morning during a scuffle with police. Phillip Mntombi, a production team leader at Samancor, said mineworkers there would continue their strike that started late last month.

Mineworkers on strike at Samancor mine in Mooinooi. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Mntombi talked about Samancor worker’s plans to work with Amcu, whose leadership this week addressed workers in front of the mine as police looked on.

“We don’t trust the National Union of Mineworkers anymore. We wanted to negotiate with management ourselves but it is the law that we need to do bargaining with a union. We don’t want to work with a union now but have no choice. We will work with Amcu but we will remain independent,” said Mntombi.

Worker committees organising strikes at various mines in North West, Gauteng and Limpopo provinces met last Saturday (October 20) in Marikana to form the National Strike Committee (NSC). They vowed to shut down platinum, gold, coal, iron and diamond mines countrywide until their salary demands were met.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), a national lobby group describing itself as a “revolutionary Marxist organisation”, is supporting workers to organise a national strike on November 3. It wants workers from various industries to join a general strike demanding salary increases across the public sector.

Mametlwe Sebei, a DSM leader, said they would plan a march to the government’s headquarter at Union Buildings in Pretoria.

“Workers have agreed to escalate the struggle… The ANC and Cosatu in the tripartite alliance are uniting to catch strike committees. The government has made its intentions clear. They want to down the worker’s strike with blood,” said Sebei after the worker’s meeting.

“Workers are saying that no amount of threats, of killings, arrests and other attacks by the bosses and government is going to deter them in their struggle. They are determined to go forward no matter how prolonged this strike is.”

Makhalemele Motaung, at the meeting to represent striking mineworkers from Harmony Gold Mine in Gauteng, said their strike started three weeks ago. It had no end in sight.

Motaung said at least 7,000 miners had taken strike action that would continue until they were paid R18,500 a month. He added: “We are tired of the unions. We know our agenda and how to operate.”

Sole Malejane, a development and construction worker at AngloGold Ashanti mine in Gauteng, said their strike started last month at the “deepest mine in the world”. He said 24,000 mineworkers were on strike at the mine. This strike also has no deadline.

“We are demanding R18,500 a month and at the moment many of us earn R4,800. We are meeting every day and all the mines will support this strike,” said Malejane.

Strike leaders at Anglo American Platinum too resolved to hold off work until salary increases were attained. This mine is the world’s largest platinum producer and is located in Rustenburg. Mine bosses responded to strike action by dismissing 12,000 workers who did not return to work.

Worker’s committee leaders from various mines shared tactics at meetings outside mines and even under a tree in a public park in Rustenburg this week.

Their intensified action comes at a time when mineworkers on strike at various sites face arrest and dismissal. Mostly mineworker residents of impoverished townships around the Lonmin mine have blocked roads with rocks to prevent the police from entering their area.


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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