Members of a self-styled liberation movement called the September National Imbizo went to Marikana in search of the truth about what happened at Wonderkop. They found tight police control, the community in shock, and plenty of anger and hopelessness. By MANDY DE WAAL.
“It felt like a police state. It was total overkill,” said Pakama Ngceni, an activist with September National Imbizo (SNI), a self-styled liberation movement with roots in African socialism. “There’s probably a police officer for every person in Marikana.”
Activists from SNI travelled to the Northwest mining town of Marikana on Sunday to speak to miners devastated by the massacre at Lonmin, which left 34 miners dead, more than 70 injured and some 260 miners arrested.
Speaking to Daily Maverick by phone, Ngceni said Marikana was a ghost town. “There weren’t any kids on the street, and only a few people walking around. Everybody is so scared that there that the children aren’t allowed on the streets to play anymore. It was very uncomfortable.”
Getting into the mining town wasn’t easy, and the activists had to go through roadblocks manned by police. “We had to drive through four roadblocks, and we all had to show the police our IDs.”
There was some artwork in the car that concerned police manning the roadblocks. “It became a whole tedious thing. The paintings were done by Thomas Sankara, former president of Burkina Faso. The people’s manifesto is inspired by what he did in that country.”
Sankara, who died in 1987, is often referred to as Che Guevara and described by those who admire him as “the world’s poorest president, but indeed its richest revolutionary”. Writing for Huffington Post, Nyambura Michael Mungai, a former Kenyan street kid and now a Philadelphia-based social justice activist, said although Sankara’s is not a household name, he was a leader of a similar stature to Nelson Mandela or Kwame Nkrumah (who helped realised Ghana’s independence from British colonial rule).
Mungai wrote that Sankara was influenced by the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. “He committed his presidency to eradicating poverty and to uplifting the common man. Ahead of his time, Sankara was also dedicated to seeing the status of women in his country improve. He became the first African head of state to elevate women to multiple top government positions, as well as recruiting them in the army.”
Mungai told the story of how Sankara sold off the government’s fleet of Mercedes vehicles, making the cheapest car available in the country at the time (the Renault 5), the official vehicle for his ministers. “He reduced his own salary to $450 a month plus his personal possessions. He also banned the use of government chauffeurs and first class airline tickets by his government officials. He encouraged the Burkinabe to purchase garments produced by their fellow countrymen. Sankara also refused air conditioning in his office, arguing that most of his fellow countrymen lived without such luxuries,” Mungai wrote.
SNI’s People’s Manifesto is based on Sankara’s thinking. In it, SNI demands all public officials, regardless of status, make use of the public sector. “We, the people of South Africa, hereby legislate a new law, titled: ‘POLITICIANS AND PUBLIC SERVANTS USE PUBLIC SERVICES’. This law compels all politicians, from the president to the local councillor, and all public servants, from the Director General to the sweeper and their families to use public utilities,” the manifesto reads.
The rationale for SNI’s manifesto? “The basic idea behind our law is simple: politicians and public servants must use the same public services that they legislate for us, the majority. In demanding this we are driven by a simple question: If politicians and public servants refuse to use the services they say are good enough for the majority of us, then who exactly are they serving?” according to the SNI website.
Back at Marikana, SNI’s Ngceni said the intense police presence was reminiscent of a police state. “They (the SAPS) act like they are in charge, and they are there to interrogate anyone who comes in. What you feel throughout is that you are being watched. Every single car is accounted for, even when we said we were meeting a friend in town at a particular shop, when we got to the shop in question there were three big ‘mello yellos’ (yellow police trucks) outside, just to check that we were telling the truth.
“Speaking to people in the town, they said they don’t quite trust anybody. They are very scared, and particularly scared of the police,” said Ngceni, adding the state action becomes more ominous when one considers the relationship Zuma and the ANC have with mining interests in this country.
“The relationship Zuma has with mining owners, and those granted access to mineral wealth, is shady. It is very dodgy. Even when Malema was still in the ANC nationalisation was dealt with as if the government today doesn’t own all the mineral rights in South Africa. The government does own the mineral rights and has chosen to give these rights to the likes of Lonmin, who has a person from the ANC (Cyril Ramaphosa) as part of its board. All the influential people in the ANC like Kunene, Motsepe and Gumede have stakes in the mining industry.”
Under the apartheid regime, this country had a dual ownership model for mineral rights. The state held some rights while private ownership was based on the law of property, securing long-term tenure for those involved in mining. The 1998 White Paper on Minerals and Mining gave voice to the concept of vesting custodianship of mineral rights to the state on the agenda, after which the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002, realised state custodianship of mineral rights. The act recognises the mineral wealth as a national asset that belongs to all.
Ngceni said despite democracy and changes in mining legislation, the song remains the same as it was during apartheid. “The ANC leadership has been courting apartheid capital on our behalf and is merely putting their own guys in there. Everything still runs the same way and black people are still being exploited in mines the way they were during apartheid.
“The fact is that ANC leadership—who are supposed to have an ANC agenda—only go into these mining deals to become the empowerment faces that hide the exploitation of blacks that goes on in these mines. In Marikana, we spoke to miners who said they felt betrayed by the president. When Jacob Zuma arrived, his first call was to the mine bosses. The miners felt so betrayed by this because they blamed Lonmin for the massacre. The mine bosses called the police, and after that the state got involved,” Ngceni added.
“The fact that the first call Zuma made was to go to the mine bosses was seen as an indication of where his loyalty lies, particularly if you look at the context of all of the ANC leadership getting into mining and securing mineral wealth,” she said.
The SNI spent Sunday walking around the scene of the massacre. On arrival, Ngceni saw a lot of people wandering around, looking for lost personal articles. “The first guy we spoke to was so traumatized. He was holding onto a phone that was in pieces. The man is a miner who was on the hill when those people were shot and killed. The phone he was holding onto belongs to a close friend of his, and he says the phone got crushed by a police vehicle.
“You have all these items of clothing lying around, and all the blood. There is a second hill behind the one people are seeing in the media, but it is blue because of some chemical. There was a water bomb and the water had some kind of chemical or toxin because the miners’ eyes started watering, they couldn’t see properly. They said they were disoriented. When we saw that mountain it was still blue. The rocks were blue and the grass around it was still blue. It looks terrible,” Ngceni said.
The SNI activist said she’s sceptical about the proposed investigation of the Marikana massacre. “The miners told us that the police burned evidence right in front of them. The miners we spoke to claim that maybe one guy shot at the crowd with rubber bullets, but most of the police shot with live ammunition. They claim that the police then replaced the live round cartridges on the scene with rubber bullets.”
Approached for comment SAPS spokesperson Dennis Adriao said police were no longer able to issue comment on the Marikana issue because an investigation had been launched and the police couldn’t comment from a legal perspective. Adriao referred request for comment to Moses Dlamini from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
Dlamini said that IPID had offices in Rustenburg and that investigators from that office were on the scene within half an hour. “The area was secured, the forensic team arrived and I am confident that the investigation was thorough and by the book,” said Dlamini.
Ngceni stressed that activists and the public may never know what really happened at Marikana, but do know the events that led up to the massacre. “What’s certain is whether it is the police, or the schools, or the hospitals, there is absolutely no accountability in government,” she said.
“Our way forward cannot merely include enquiries… enquiries happen, findings are brought and nothing really happens. Time passes and you find the person involved in the killing was just shifted to another post, and life goes on,” she said.
Now, Ngceni said, is the time for South African activists to ask what the way forward is. “With this massacre, and the killing of Andries Tatane last year, social activists need to re-group and re-think. We need to re-look what it is we are fighting for and what it is we are dying for.”
Whether its socialists, Marxists or unionists you speak to, the one commonality that echoes is that people, disillusioned by a government that has failed to deliver what it promised, want change. DM
Photo: Lonmin employees gather on a hill called Wonderkop at Marikana, 15 August 2006. Photograph Greg Marinovich
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine