Marikana lawyers want R1-million for every dead miner’s family

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

A London-based lawyer representing families of murdered Marikana mineworkers this week approached Lonmin mining giant’s shareholders to pay each family R1-million.

In a letter handed to shareholders in London, lawyer Jim Nichol argued the mineworkers remained “hungry, without food… and live in desperate circumstances”.

Nichol represented deceased mineworkers’ families at the government-funded Farlam Commission of Inquiry, which still has to issue its findings on the August 2012 police shootings of 34 Lonmin mineworkers in Marikana.

Protesters outside offices in London where Lonmin mining company held its annual general meeting, with photos of mineworkers who were killed at the company's mine in Marikana, North West province, in August 2012. The London company was in a wage dispute with South African mineworkers at the time. Picture Supplied

Protesters outside offices in London where Lonmin mining company held its annual general meeting, with photos of mineworkers who were killed at the company’s mine in Marikana, North West province, in August 2012. The London company was in a wage dispute with South African mineworkers at the time. Picture Supplied

Nichol handed the letter to almost 40 of Lonmin’s shareholders as they headed to their annual general meeting at the mine’s London headquarters.

“Whatever the outcome of the (government-funded) Farlam Commission of Inquiry, Lonmin have a duty to all of the families of this tragedy,” wrote Nichol.

“As shareholders, you will be told by Lonmin directors that they have substantially discharged that duty in that the children of the deceased are now being educated at Lonmin’s expense.

“Lonmin should not evade its responsibility to these families by occasionally providing paltry assistance…

“We urge you as shareholders, irrespective of the findings of Farlam Commission, to authorise an ex-gratia payment of R1-million to each family to alleviate immediate hardship and to provide for the continued wellbeing of the dependents of those killed at Lonmin Marikana.”

Nichol and London-based activists confronted the shareholders with photographs and copies of a film about mineworkers killed at their Marikana operation, an incident that exposed cracks in South Africa’s democracy.

Police gunned the mineworkers after they had been protesting against Lonmin mining bosses for better pay. Mining strikes had then ensued for months at Lonmin and other mines in the North West province.

Johannesburg-based documentary filmmaker Rehad Desai launched a multi-media campaign seeking justice for the mineworkers.

His award-winning film Miners Shot Down has been used to lobby support for the families of those killed in Marikana. It has been nominated for the Cinema for Peace Award, with the winner to be announced on February 9 in Berlin.

Nichol said protesters from the London branch of the Marikana Support Campaign held “photographs of a family member for almost each of the deceased” outside the Lonmin office.

“I handed out an envelope containing the letter and (Miners Shot Down) DVD to about 30 shareholders. A further six or so were hostile. All in all, (it was) a good initiative,” said Nichol.

Nichol this week made public a copy of the open letter he had penned for the shareholders.

It points out that Lonmin’s annual report for last year “does not disclose that submissions by lawyers have been made to the commission of inquiry that senior executives and directors of Lonmin should be referred for investigation and prosecution for murder and culpable homicide”.

“As shareholders you are entitled to know what is being said about Lonmin at the commission and in South Africa. We enclose a copy of a documentary Miners Shot Down to assist your understanding,” it reads.

“Lonmin’s culpability arises from a catastrophic strategic decision that was taken by executives to refuse, point blank, to negotiate or even discuss any grievance whatsoever with the unprotected strike of miners.

“This was contrary to Lonmin’s own documented procedures. Had Lonmin negotiated or simply discussed the grievances with the strikers, there are very few in South Africa who do not believe that these killings could have been averted.”

Nichol’s letter also references George Bizos, “perhaps the most distinguished lawyer in South Africa who represented the late President Mandela for more than 50 years”, who made submissions to the commission.

Bizos had, according to Nichol, told the commission the Lonmin “be investigated or charged”.

Nichol added: “Lonmin and its directors saw the violence but failed to take adequate steps to prevent the violence and stop further escalation once it had begun…. conduct of Lonmin contributed to the escalation of tensions and the resulting violence.”

Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey in said Nichol was “offered, and accepted, a private meeting with Lonmin’s chairman Brian Beamish yesterday (Thursday 29th January) at which he could make his arguments and discuss the important issues he raises”.

“Lonmin has made significant provision for the widows and children of its employees who lost their lives at Marikana in August 2012, including establishing a fund to educate their children through to the end of their university education, paying pensions and benefits, paying funeral expenses and employing the widows (or another family member of their choice) to provide a family income.”

Vey added: “The chief executive, Ben Magara, also travelled extensively to meet as many of the families as possible and, express his condolences and hear their concerns when he joined the company.

“Unfortunately some of the suggestions made in Mr Nichols’ letter to shareholders pre-empt the findings of Judge Farlam’s commission into the tragic events at Marikana.

“Lonmin has always been clear that it does not wish to undermine that inquiry, which it wholly supports, by speculating on what the Judge may conclude.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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