Mental floss for the discerning
1 November 2014 02:58 (South Africa)
South Africa

Marikana: When comrades clash, it is the truth that suffers

  • Greg Marinovich
  • South Africa
greg-lonmin-subbedmGM2.jpg

The twinned appearances of then-Lonmin shareholder and ANC frontman Cyril Ramaphosa and then-Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu at the Marikana Commission within two weeks of each other was always going to be interesting, reports GREG MARINOVICH.

Both ruling party luminaries are former trade unionists, albeit one with a more illustrious pedigree than the other, yet their testimony before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry set them on a collision course.

Over the weekend, the Minister took eNCA to task, demanding an apology from the broadcaster for saying she had called Deputy President Ramaphosa “a liar”. eNCA issued an apology as a trawl through the transcripts clearly showed that Shabangu had never called Ramaphosa a liar. At least not in as many words.

The point of difference between the two ANC heavyweights was whether Ramaphosa and Lonmin had indeed prevailed upon Shabangu to change her stance towards the 2012 Lonmin strike. Was it Lonmin and Ramaphosa who convinced her to switch from calling it a ‘labour dispute’ to labelling it “criminal” and thus precipitating the unconstrained police action that saw 34 miners killed and 78 wounded?

When pressed by lawyers for various parties at the Commission, she repeatedly denied points to which Ramaphosa had testified. Most of these were related to just how much influence he had exerted over her. Shabangu denied that Ramaphosa’s interventions had convinced her to change the state’s characterisation of the strike from a labour issue to a criminal one, or that it was Ramaphosa who convinced her to speak to the President and Minister of Police about it.

Advocate Lewis, who appears for most of the miners killed during the strike, reminded Minister Shabangu what Ramaphosa had said not two weeks before. “Mr Ramaphosa also testified, under oath, before this Commission, that he in fact got you to change or abandon your characterisation of what was happening at Lonmin. And I just wanted to put that to you for you to comment on.”

MS SHABANGU: Mr Chairman, I must say it is not true. He never influenced me. He never persuaded me and that cannot happen in about four or five minutes, to be persuaded, and I want to put it to you, through you, Mr Chairman, that Mr Ramaphosa never convinced me.”

The unprotected strike by rock drill operators, incensed that they were earning significantly less than the counterparts on the neighbouring Impala and Amplats mines, began peacefully enough on 9 August 2012.

Yet within two days, after their employer refused to meet with them to discuss their grievances, the first deaths were recorded, and the violence ratcheted up swiftly.

On Tuesday the 14th, Minister Shabangu was on the East Rand and made her first public statement about the strike, which Lonmin executives deemed incorrect. They called upon their BEE component and ANC heavyweight Cyril Ramaphosa to correct this, and get the state to intervene much more robustly in the strike.

In the early hours of the 15th, just after midnight, Ramaphosa sent an email to his chairman, Roger Phillimore, saying that he had indeed had discussions with, among others, Shabangu. The email says that he told her that her silence and inaction on what was happening at Lonmin was bad for her and bad for government. Ramaphosa claims she said she would issue a statement. He further wrote he would be meeting Shabangu in Cape Town later that day to “have a discussion and see what she needs to do”.

Lonmin representatives were pleased, yet later that morning, Shabangu told SAFM’s AM Live that the Marikana situation was a labour dispute that had to be solved by the parties coming together to sort it out. That provoked an email from Lonmin’s chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson to Ramaphosa, asking him to call the minister and influence her to change the way the government identified the strike from a labour dispute to a criminal event.

Ramaphosa, whose Shanduka then had a 9% stake in Lonmin platinum, immediately responded, saying he would have a discussion with the Minister later that day. Ramaphosa added, “I thank you for the consistent manner in which you are characterising the current difficulties we are going through.

“The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be portrayed as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation, there needs to be concomitant action to address the situation.”

Ramaphosa had also by this time put in calls to the Minister of Safety and Security, Nathi Mthethwa. In a follow up email sent at midday on the 15th August, Ramaphosa said to Phillimore, “You are absolutely correct in insisting that the Minister and indeed all government officials need to understand that we are dealing with a criminal act. I have said as much to the Minister of safety and security.”

Under cross-examination at the Commission, Ramaphosa insisted that he had held that the killings and intimidation were criminal acts, and not the strike itself. This is not at all clear in his or any of Lonmin’s emails, where the unprotected strike appears to be criminalised.

Yet quite a different side of Ramaphosa comes out in other communications during the period. In emails about the strike between him and Thandeka Ncube, Shanduka’s representative on Lonmin’s executive management committee, Ramaphosa seems to side firmly with the aggrieved miners, and reinforces his reputation as a fair man:

“The problem with the situation is that we know the cause of it; the real cause is the huge differential between the wages paid to the rock drill operators in other companies and what we pay them. I really did not know that the differential was so huge.”

Did and does the urbane Mr Ramaphosa play both sides a little too adroitly? The commission did not hear any evidence that his time at Lonmin helped the miners. He was on the board at Lonmin, as a non-executive director, and chair of the transformation committee from 2010, yet the lot of miners improved not an iota in that time. The Legal Resources Centre’s advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi put it: “The responsibility of the board is to hold management accountable; you would accept that?”

MR RAMAPHOSA: Yes, Sir.

MR NGCUKAITOBI: So in other words you would at least be prime insofar as holding management accountable in relation to social conditions of the workers?

MR RAMAPHOSA: Yes.

 

[Lonmin - if one reads their statements and annual reports – is a company committed to improving the lives of its employees and the communities they mine among. This is the mining company that had to agree to a series of positive social and community work to allow them to change their ‘old order mining rights’ to new ones. One of the commitments from 2006 was to build 5,500 houses for miners by 2014. Ngcukaitobi put the various targets originally set for each year to Ramaphosa.]

MR NGCUKAITOBI SC: Out of this target set in 2006 to build 5,500 houses, only three houses were actually built. To date, three have been built, and Lonmin changed their targets – apparently with a sign-off by then-Minister Shabangu’s DMR – to allow this to be a 100% attainment of their goals.

Ramaphosa claimed, in response, that he did not know this.

Evidence leaders have also brought to the Commission’s notice that the first couple of years after 2006 were ones of record profit for Lonmin, years in which they made massive and as yet unexplained payments to an offshore account in a Caribbean tax haven.

Well, back to Minister Shabangu [she is now Minister in the Presidency responsible for women]. Her history within government has come back to haunt her. Advocate Dali Mpofu, a legal and political (EFF) thorn in the ANC’s side, quoted Shabangu from a speech she made in 2008, when she was deputy minister for police: “You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or the community. You must not worry about the regulations. I want no warning shots. You have one shot and it must be a kill shot. I want to assure the police station commissioners and policemen and women from these areas that they have permission to kill these criminals. I will not tolerate any pathetic excuses for you not being able to deal with crime. You have been given guns; now use them. If criminals dare to threaten the police or the livelihood of lives of innocent men, women and children, then they must be killed.”

Her response was, “Mr Mpofu is very pathetic.”

The argument is that once Lonmin, NUM and Ramaphosa had managed to convince the state and the ANC to define the strike itself and not just some of the participants as ‘criminal’, then the gloves were off, so to speak. (NUM made a statement calling for the army or the paramilitary Strategic Task Force police unit to be called in, a couple of days before the STF indeed were deployed at Marikana.)

If the strikers were ‘criminals’, then, the logic goes, they could be shot without much ado.

In this argument, Lonmin and Ramaphosa’s request for ‘more pointed’ and ‘concomitant action’ from the police must be seen in the light of Shabangu’s speech and many other tough policing calls by ministers, and indeed Jacob Zuma, before he was president.

There was also the gruesome killing of two police officers in a clash that the police provoked on the 13th (three miners were also killed). This was an event that had inflamed the police, as was acknowledged by the police commissioner two days prior to the massacre on the 16th.

Minister Shabangu came off as a defensive and unreliable witness, who on ocassion feigned a lapse in memory or a struggle with English to avoid difficult questions. She claimed to not have ‘engaged’ the union AMCU because she did not know of their existence, despite hard evidence to the contrary.

In an almost comic exchange, Shabangu clumsily tried to disguise her utterances at a NUM meeting in May of 2013, nine months after the massacre:

MS PILLAY: Minister, if we can look at QQQQ1.7, you’ll see this is an article by Carol Paton dated the 24th of May 2013 and it refers, Minister, to remarks made by you during a NUM, a meeting with NUM shop stewards and leaders of a central committee. Do you recall this meeting, Minister?

MS SHABANGU: I do.

MS PILLAY: Now let’s see what you said at the meeting. It says in paragraph 1 that, “Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu on Friday expressed her solidarity and support with the National Union of  Mineworkers which she said was ‘under siege from a force determined to remove it from the face of the earth.’” Do you recall those remarks, Minister?

MS SHABANGU: I do. I do.

MS PILLAY: Now can you tell us what it is that you meant? Which force determined to remove it from the face of the earth were you referring to?

MS SHABANGU: Well, the force I was referring to, hence if you look at how I qualify it, I qualify it with the Britain, Mr Chairman, unions. So I was referring to the employers.

MS PILLAY: You were referring to the employer, to Lonmin?

MS SHABANGU: Exactly. Exactly.

Of course, no one is in any doubt that she was referring to AMCU, who had by then taken 44,000 miners away from NUM on just the platinum belt – a very direct threat to NUM and the governing ANC.

It is on this note that Ramaphosa and Shabangu have a meeting of minds once more. On a May Day speech in Rustenburg in 2013, Ramaphosa said, “We should declare Rustenburg alliance territory. The same attack is being launched onto the ANC, COSATU and SACP. We must stand form and united and defend this union.” (See also here.)

In the Commission, on the other hand, Ramaphosa came across as much more measured and sympathetic. Yet many of his answers were equally unconvincing. Dali Mpofu clashed repeatedly with Ramaphosa: “I'm quite sure the witness understands the question. Mr Ramaphosa, what’s your answer? Did you use that expression, ‘dastardly criminals’, in order to induce the police to think that they would be dealing with the kind of people who were subject to the exhortations that the police had, in years gone by, received from the Deputy Minister and the previous, yes, the previous National Commissioner?

MR RAMAPHOSA: My answer to that is ‘no’.

In another exchange shortly thereafter, Mpofu spoke to the ease with which Ramaphosa could speak to and influence ministers of the state.

MR MPOFU: Well, some of us don’t have that amount of influence. So for a normal person it would be remarkable, who didn’t wield as much power as you do, would it?

MR RAMAPHOSA: For a normal person? I don’t know what that means, Mr Mpofu.

MR MPOFU: Well, for someone other than a person who wields an enormous amount of political power to change a minister’s view in the space of four to five hours would be a remarkable achievement. Would you agree?

MR RAMAPHOSA: No, I wouldn’t agree.

MR MPOFU: So you think any citizen of South Africa can just sommer hear a minister saying something on the radio at nine and within a matter of hours that same minister somehow changes the view completely? Is it –

MR RAMAPHOSA: Yes, it is possible.

MR MPOFU: It’s possible?

MR RAMAPHOSA: Yes.

MR MPOFU: I want to live in that country.

Meanwhile, Shabangu’s outrage at eNCA’s misquoting of her can be seen as an attempt to rebuild bridges between herself and South Africa’s deputy president. A man who, in short order, might be running the country. DM

Photo: SA Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (Sapa),  Minister in the Presidency Susan Shabangu (Reuters).

  • Greg Marinovich
  • South Africa


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