South Africa

Marikana and Mangaung: Where tragedy and political theatre meet

By Ranjeni Munusamy 3 September 2012

Had the Marikana massacre happened at any other time, the state’s conduct and the ANC’s hands-off approach would probably not have as many consequences as it does now. But fate timed the massacre in the year of the ANC’s 100th anniversary and in the politically charged atmosphere of its Mangaung conference. Can the great mop-up operation by government and back-pedalling by NPA reverse the damage? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

The next four months will see two processes playing out simultaneously, and both will compete for the top spot on the news agenda: the ANC will no longer be able to contain succession talk and the factional battles that have been bubbling under will now break out into the open. 

Once the ANC head office, Luthuli House, completes its audit of branches the formal process of nominations for senior leadership positions will begin. We are likely to see a range of names being thrown into a pot for the top six official positions, to be whittled down depending on whether the contenders accept nomination and whether they have sufficient support to remain in the race.

There is likely be fierce horse-trading between the party’s provinces and leagues over the top six posts once their respective nominees are revealed. They will also be negotiating to get their candidates into the reduced National Executive Committee (NEC) positions – the ANC policy conference decided to reduce the number of seats to 60 from 80. Every word uttered by President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, all likely to be nominated for the position of ANC president, will be dissected and interpreted in the context of their campaigns. 

Also unfolding during the same period will be the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre. Due to the massive public interest around the matter, it is likely to be broadcast live and reported on extensively. The hearings are likely to be emotionally charged, particularly when the Lonmin mineworkers give evidence on what unfolded on 16 August. An investigation by Daily Maverick has unearthed shocking evidence of police wantonly shooting the workers with the intention to kill them. 

The terms of reference has cast the spotlight on the Lonmin platinum mine, the police, the trade unions and the Department of Mineral Resources. Evidence will be led against and in defence of all these parties and is likely to leave all sides battered, as culpability in the saga is clearly widespread. There is likely to be much public debate and analysis of the testimonies and evidence presented to the commission as the country grapples with who is to blame for the 44 deaths at Marikana. 

The added dimension, which is not covered by the terms of reference, is the state’s conduct in the aftermath of the massacre. The police arrest and prolonged detention of 259 mineworkers and 10 others who were later discharged from hospital; the botched attempt by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to prosecute the mineworkers for their colleagues’ murders, as well as the effort by National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega to absolve the police of liability has compounded and muddied the case further. 

All of these depict a government aggravating a national tragedy through bungling and trampling on the rights of workers. The workers had not only been kept in custody for an extraordinarily long time without being formally charged, but they also lost their jobs as a result of their arrest. Then all 269 were charged last week with 34 counts of murder under the “common purpose” doctrine, which caused mass outrage. 

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and ANC heavyweight Mathews Phosa publicly questioned the NPA decision to use the Apartheid-era law to prosecute the workers, and lawyers acting for the miners appealed to Zuma to release the prisoners. Zuma refused, but it was clear the NPA was under tremendous heat when Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba called her senior management into an emergency meeting on Saturday. 

On Sunday, Jiba had to make public climb-down by announcing that the murder charges against the mineworkers would be withdrawn and that they would be released on warning pending the outcome of further investigations, including that of the Farlam Commission. The decision was inevitable, as apart from public and political pressure the NPA would have had an uphill battle trying to make the case legally. 

But the NPA’s backpedalling on the murder charges would do little to undo public perceptions of a callous state trying its damndest to throw the book at the Lonmin mineworkers. The deployment of an inter-ministerial committee to help identify and bury the dead has also been a small consolation to counter government’s involvement in Marikana’s misery. 

But it is really the ANC that will pay the biggest price for the sins of its government. Apart from its detached approach to the Marikana massacre and lack of support and care for the traumatised community, the ANC will forever stand accused of being in charge of a state that shoots and kills its people. 

Zuma’s detractors have every intention of playing this up as his fault in the run-up to the Mangaung conference, as evidenced through the fiery statements of expelled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema. The massacre is already being drummed up on the campaign trail, particularly in the Eastern Cape, the home province of many of the miners. Zuma’s support in the province was already on the wane, and the massacre will further dent his popularity.  

Zuma seems to think his establishment of a commission of inquiry will set him apart from his police and mineral resources cabinet ministers, and that it will carry the burden for him. Unfortunately for him, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa is the key campaigner for his second term bid and is in for a rough ride for the duration of the commission of inquiry. Zuma will likely have to carry Mthethwa rather than the other way around as the inquiry points fingers at who is responsible for the massacre. 

The strategists in the ANC factions will soon have to factor in the proceedings of the commission of inquiry into how they run their campaigns in the final stretch to Mangaung. They will be short-sighted if they do not realise that the inquiry is bound to escalate emotion and anti-government sentiment in the crucial pre-Mangaung period. 

In fact, both processes are likely to climax simultaneously in early December and there is no way that the proceedings of the inquiry will not impact on the ANC. For some reason, the ANC deferred the handling of the Marikana situation completely to government, and the party therefore now needs to own the clumsy actions of the state. 

It was ironic that the ANC’s centenary flame was travelling around the North West Province during of August, yet none of the party leaders thought it appropriate to take it to the area where the light had gone out. Marikana may not hold historic or symbolic significance for the ANC, but the party could have demonstrated its care and relevance in a community in crisis through the multiple failures of those in charge. 

Marikana may not make or break ANC presidents, but as its truths unfold it will define good and bad leadership in the ruling party. Therefore, though Mangaung and Marikana are hundreds of kilometres apart, their paths are destined to collide in the not-too-distant future. DM

Photo: Mourners attend the funeral of Andries Motlapula Ntsenyeho, one of 34 striking platinum mineworkers shot dead at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, at France township near Sasolburg in Free State province, September 1, 2012.  REUTERS/Mike Hutchings


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