South Africa

Marikana Commission: Joseph Mathunjwa locks horns with police

By Sipho Hlongwane 30 November 2012

As anticipated, AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa faced still more uphill from police advocate Ishmael Semenya, after his evidence at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. Though he was buffeted about on Thursday, however, he is still on fairly secure ground. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The police have been given much reason to be unhappy about from the testimony of Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. He has blamed them for causing the massacre that left 34 people dead and 78 injured – and not just for pulling the triggers, but for not listening to him and avoiding the tragedy to begin with. 

As expected, the police advocate Ishmael Semenya gave Mathunjwa a tough time on Thursday. There were several holes to poke in his story, yet the going was slow thanks to the lawyer’s pedantic approach. The commission spent much of its time dwelling on the difference between “violence” and “armed protest”. What point this will prove was unclear.

Mathunjwa’s last speech at the large hill, just before the massacre began, was also questioned. While it was a grossly simplistic one that presented AMCU as pretty much the only people willing to listen and help the striking miners, the union president clearly did ask for the cooperation of the men in order to halt the impasse. Semenya’s attempts to prove otherwise, in the face of convincing evidence, smacked of pointlessness. 

At one point, Semenya had another futile “A-ha!” moment when he said that Mathunjwa had lied about the whereabouts of North West commissioner Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo on the day of the massacre. He had previously said that the general was at an ANC torch-lighting ceremony that day.

“That evidence is untruthful. Evidence will be led to prove that she had gone to visit an injured police officer,” Semenya said.

Mathunjwa replied and said that this is what he was told by Mbombo’s deputy, William Mpembe. 

“Mpembe told us that she had gone to the ANC event. He even tried to call her whilst we waited at the security joint operations committee,” he said.

Semenya seems to have missed the point that Mathunjwa was making with the Mbombo anecdote. The union boss told the commission that he had gained some ground with the miners on the 15th, but found the company and the police to be completely unresponsive. Where the commissioner was exactly is almost immaterial – the point is that she wasn’t at Marikana, and reportedly refused to help Mathunjwa. 

Semenya also said that Mathunjwa was mistaken when he said that Mbombo was in charge of the operation on the day. Again, the response was that this is what Mpembe said.

Mathunjwa also maintained that he had been worried all through the 16th, yet failed to reprimand a strike leader when he made a direct threat at the police. In an interview just moments before the police began shooting, he said that “the writing was on the wall as it was clear that police were going to shoot these people. It was out of my hands; it was in God’s hands.”

After Mathunjwa finished speaking to the miners on the koppie, Mgcineni ‘Mambush’ Noki (one of the strike leaders who was killed during the police operation – he has since become something of a legend amongst the miners) took the megaphone and promised to “finish off the police”. Why he failed to tell the miners that he genuinely believed that a massacre was about to happen, yet failed to say this to the miners, would be valid question to ask the AMCU president.

Semenya has also suggested that the idea that the miners would disarm and disperse on the 16th was given to them by Mathunjwa, and therefore when this turned out not to be true he must have lied about the miners’ intentions. 

Mathunjwa has testified that he got no help from the police in his efforts to negotiate with the miners. If he really was the source of the disarmament intelligence, why was that piece of information considered credible, and almost everything else he said disregarded?

The commission, and the AMCU president’s testimony, continues. DM

Read more:

  • Marikana Commission: the foiled saviour, Joseph Mathunjwa in Daily Maverick  

Photo by Greg Marinovich.


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