President Jacob Zuma made a severe blunder when he did not go to the Wonderkop squatter camp Saturday after the police opened fire on a group of striking miners, killing 34 and wounding 78. Instead, the president restricted his visit to a behind-doors meeting with the police and a quick tour of the hospital where some of the injured men were kept.
On Tuesday, a delegation of cabinet ministers, including Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Monitoring Minister Collins Chabane, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, visited the spot where miners hold meetings. They were met with open hostility, and at times it looked like they wouldn’t be allowed to make any kind of statement. Eventually, they were given an opportunity to speak, but only after local leaders had vented their anger.
Photo: Striking miners gathered to discuss the situation as Lonmin insists they return to work or be dismissed, and were surprised by an inter-ministrial team led by Collins Chabane. The team, including the Defence Minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula was tongue-lashed by the miners leaders. Wonderkop, Marikana, North West Province. August 21, 2012.
There were tense moments. The ministers were told they would have to send away their protection units and a spotter helicopter circling overhead. “We don’t want anything that even resembles a police here,” the miners said. After a while, the police escort was sent away, though a handful of bodyguards in civvies still remained.
One of the leaders recounted to the ministers their version of events that led to Thursday’s deaths. He once again described how an attack by the police on the koppie where they sat had led to the men fleeing in all directions—some of them straight into the line of waiting Tactical Response Team that opened fire on them. He also said police later that night raided some shacks in the camp and took some men away. Some odds and ends that were collected from the scene of the killings were displayed, including a bullet from an R5 assault rifle. The explanation was necessary since they had heard that the president was being briefed by the same man who led the police operation, and couldn’t be trusted to present the version of events in the correct way, the man said.
Photo: The ministers’ rides.
The striking miners are convinced that the government sent troops to shoot them down, since R5 assault rifles were used. Though the rifle is indeed used by the South African National Defence Force, it was the Tactical Response Team that used it on Thursday.
Another man told the committee that the African National Congress had forsaken the people who had voted it into power.
“Even a chicken protects all of its eggs. Yet we voted for you, the ANC, we put our cross next to Zuma’s face, and then he sends his police to kill us,” he said.
He said it was clear that since they came armed with assault weapons, the police had been given a “shoot to kill” order by the government.
“We fought for liberation then we voted for you. But here we are, still without any rights. When do we earn our rights? The hen has broken her own eggs. Zuma has shown that he does not deserve to lead us by not coming to meet us. He sends messengers instead,” he said. “Why should we give the ANC our votes? The black man was killed here on the orders of the black man. ANC, you are what you are today because we made you so, and this is how you thank us.”
Photo: Anger is still a strongest emotion.
The inter-ministerial committee was then told it would not be allowed to hold a memorial service in Wonderkop until the men who had been locked up had been freed and the families of those who were injured could visit them.
The men also want to bury their families in the Eastern Cape. They rejected a R2-million offer by Lonmin shareholder Cyril Ramaphosa to help bury the dead. It was unclear on Tuesday if the government’s offer to help would be accepted.
The inter-ministerial committee’s presence was seen as an attempt to wrest control of events from Wonderkop and give it back to either the police or Lonmin. Setting it up without consulting Wonderkop was a tone-deaf move, as the strike was described to us as a demand for just recompense after years of belittlement. The miners made it clear that they would only acquiesce to government intervention after certain conditions had been met, and would only return to work after their net pay had been raised from as little as R4,500 to R12,500.
Photo: A policeman helps members of the Wonderkop community make a statement, relating to charges of attempted murder and murder against police who shot and killed 34 striking Lonmin workers, at the Marikana police station August 21, 2012.
The theme of control was reinforced when one of the main leaders said to Daily Maverick that the strike would continue for as long as their demands were not met, which now included the release of the arrested and the return of those who had been sent to hospital. When we spoke to him, he was standing next to a stockpile of food and water being rationed out to the crowd. They had asked everyone to donate R10 so it could be bought.
Patekile Holomisa, a leading traditional leader in the Eastern Cape, was part of the group that spoke on Tuesday, and explained that a judicial commission of inquiry was going to be held which would investigate what had happened. The news didn’t cheer the crowd.
Photo: Expelled former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema helps to lay charges of attempted murder and murder against police who shot and killed 34 striking Lonmin workers, at the Marikana police station August 21, 2012.
Zuma may have tossed away a lifeline by not visiting the squatter camp in person. It led to the spectacle of his grand inter-ministerial committee standing quietly as miner after incensed miner got up to tell them that they had sold out the people who voted them into power—for all the television cameras to see and record. The president might have been able to rescue some face for the government by going to apologise in person, and then quickly setting up some sort of mechanism that would ensure that investigations and the application of justice would flow both ways. Even if the Wonderkop community is bitter forever, it would have softened the ugliness of the government’s response in the eyes of those watching closely.
Photo: Lonmin advertising billboard, outside mine hospital, Marikana, declares boldly: Integrity, Honesty, Trust. August 21, 2012.
The miners also know that they are fighting an information war. The leaders repeatedly said that the police had blocked them from taking the press to see where the worst of the shooting happened on the day that 34 were killed by the police. They also denied they had threatened the few Lonmin employees that reported to work Monday and Tuesday. What drives them to distraction is the knowledge that the government is being briefed by the police, whom they are absolutely convinced came on that day to slaughter them. This is also why it was so important to them that Zuma come in person. Whether he will remains to be seen. Unfortunately “too little too late” is a steady feature of this unfolding tragedy.
The soundbites from Marikana will haunt the ANC, and this government, for a long time. DM
Main photo: Striking miners gathered to discuss the situation as Lonmin insists they return to work or be dismissed, and were surprised by an inter-ministrial team led by Collins Chabane. The team, including the Defence Minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula was tongue-lashed by the miners leaders. Wonderkop, Marikana, North West Province. August 21, 2012. Photo Greg Marinovich.
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