Marikana: After wave of arrests, miners to return to strike
Two months after the massacre that reverberated around the world, the ghost of the Marikana horror has risen again. Only a week before the Farlam Commission of Inquiry resumes its work, police in the North West have embarked on a wave of arrests, some of them on flimsy charges. Lonmin miners see it as an attempt at cruel intimidation and, on Thursday, decided to go back on strike. By GREG MARINOVICH.
On Wednesday morning, the prominent leader of the ad hoc strike committee, Xolani Nzuza, and another striker known as Mzet were arrested and are being held at an unknown location. The reasons for this arrest were not given as he has not yet been formally charged, but police told his legal representative that he would probably be charged with two counts of murder. One of the murders was alleged to be in August and the other in September.
The day before, Monday, another of the strike leaders, ‘Rasta’ Thembele Sohadi, managed to evade arrest when workers at the Lonmin shaft he works at intervened to thwart the police.
According to Rasta, when he clocked in at Three Shaft, Marikana, he was ‘paraded’ and mine security called him over. They attempted to detain him, but “I resisted, loudly.” The police were waiting outside mine property – at the main entrance some 200 metres – and watched as the drama unfolded. As Rasta resisted, other workers came to help him, “The workers refused to go underground unless I was released.”
Lonmin has denied that mine security is used to do police work within the mine.
Several other miners, many of them witnesses to what happened on 16 August, when police killed 34 and wounded 78 strikers, are among those arrested. Most of the strike leadership is now actively trying to evade arrest, as they are convinced that they are being targeted.
This has led to Lonmin workers leaving work and returning to The Mountain - Wonderkop. By Thursday morning, miners confirmed that they had downed tools, though many of them were finishing the morning shift. Lonmin confirmed that there were ‘several work disruptions’.
By Friday morning, strike leaders expect the walkout to be complete, unless their demands are met. These demands are the release of their leaders, Xolani and Mzet, and the end of the the police harassment. There is also an unresolved workplace issue between the miners and their employer about the length of the December leave period
One of the more bizarre cases is that of Bangile Mpotye, who was picked up by police from Nkaneng informal settlement at lunchtime on Sunday, 14 October.
Neighbours saw police in uniform and civilian clothes enter his shack just after noon, and drag him out by his shirt. They did not ask for him by name, and went straight to his room, one of twelve similar-looking rooms in the corrugated iron shack compound. He was bundled into a Toyota Quantum minibus.
Lawyers representing the union AMCU managed to track him down and discover that he has been charged with fraud. The fraud apparently relates to him submitting false papers to Lonmin.
From their side, Lonmin have - through their press office - issued a statement that “…Lonmin did not lay any charges against this employee nor is the company aware of this particular case.”
It seems unusual for police to arrest a person in this manner on fraud charges. The police have not responded to our questions about this.
Mpotye was present at the koppie known as Thaba or Wonderkop when police opened fire on striking miners on 16 August. He was hit in the ribs by a police rubber bullet, and tear-gassed, but managed to escape arrest then.
A few days later, on 20 August, he was arrested, late at night. He was released after four days, and stated in an interview at the beginning of September that police and soldiers kicked him while he was down and assaulted him in front of his terrified wife. “They hit me on the head with a gun, and kicked me in the mouth.” They demanded a gun, which he denied having. The house was searched and no gun was found.
He was taken to a Phokeng prison where he was handcuffed and assaulted again. He was accused of shooting and killing police. “I do not have a gun and I did not kill the police.”
Mpotye says his hands and feet were bound with cable ties from eight in the morning until ten in the evening on both the Monday of his arrest and the Tuesday. When he was beaten, he was ordered not to cry.
“The police were very violent,” he says. “They were threatening to kill me and put me in a municipal plastic bag.”
“They forced me to write a statement, because I was scared I could not resist I just wrote the statement because I was scared for my life. As I was signing the statement, my legs were tied up. I just wrote the statement to protect my life.” Three policemen beat him while another took down his statement.
What is astonishing is that Mpotye claims the police transported him to Lonmin mine every day, and his beatings happened at Lonmin. “They would close the curtain every time they assault[ed me]. They would close the door and curtains.”
He says he never saw any Lonmin management or workers, just Lonmin security, which were at a distance and never intervened.
Lonmin’s PR firm again: “Lonmin would never condone the torture of any individual under any circumstances. We recommend that the local SAPS representative be contacted for more information in this regard.”
The SAPS has not replied to our queries.
Neighbours saw the marks and injuries from his beatings when he was released. They claim his face was swollen, and his ribs and abdomen were bruised and swollen. He was in pain. He was also obviously terrified. He sent his wife back home to the Eastern Cape.
Now he has been arrested again, for what seems a trivial charge relating to a civil matter between Mpotye and Lonmin.
A lawyer working on Marikana cases says it is obvious that this is a wave of terror to intimidate witnesses who would otherwise give evidence at the Farlam Commission.
“It is sad that our own black government is doing this to us; this is taking us back to the days of Apartheid. I will never vote again for President Zuma,” Mpotye said in that interview, days after being released after his initial arrest.
It almost defies logic that, in the aftermath of massacre, and as the strikes in the platinum and gold sectors are threatening to grind South Africa's mining to a halt, Marikana miners are back where it all begin. Then again, much of what is happening in South Africa these days defies logic anyway. DM
Photo: Residents watch police work at the scene of the massacre at Wonderkop that saw over thirty striking miners killed by police in a bloody conclusion. 17 August, 2012. The forensics ran out of cones for marking evidence, and used coffee cups. Photo Greg Marinovich.