South Africa

2013: The lingering spectre of Marikana

By Sipho Hlongwane 11 January 2013

The Marikana Commission of Inquiry will only reach its end in June, when the final report is handed to the justice department and the president. This new timeline extends far beyond the original projection of three months from August. But that is how little has been uncovered or tested. Life may carry on for many, but it is still violently interrupted for those who are waiting for justice. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

Cyril Ramaphosa cut a sturdy figure during Tuesday’s interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour. He’s not known to be excitable, and he did not betray himself as his involvement in the country’s worst shootings since the end of Apartheid in Marikana on 16 August 2012 was probed. At the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, an email sent by him to his fellow Lonmin directors was quoted by advocate Dali Mpofu (representing the miners who survived the police shootings), ostensibly showing that the killing of 34 and the injury of 78 striking miners was premeditated.

“This (email) was on 15 August at 2.58pm, exactly 24 hours before the people were mowed down on that mountain. We have e-mails that were being exchanged between Lonmin management, government ministers (of mineral resources and the police) and at the centre is a gentleman called Cyril Ramaphosa,” Mpofu said at the Commission.

“He advanced that what was taking place were criminal acts and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address the situation. The letter was addressed to a ‘Dear Albert of Lonmin’. Ramaphosa called for action to be taken against ‘these criminals’, whose crime was to seek a wage increase.”

The accused never took the opportunity to answer this charge as loudly and publicly as it had been delivered. He quietly denied any involvement, and the matter soon dissipated as the more urgent business of the African National Congress’ 53rd national conference took over.

On Amanpour, Ramaphosa offered a simple explanation for the emails. “Basically all it boils down to is that prior to the killing of the 34 people by police guns, 10 people had died and some of them had died in the most brutal way. They had died in what I still see as a ‘criminal’ way; I was appealing to the authorities to take action to prevent further deaths,” he said. 

That is about all he needed to say. He will be troubled no more on the matter, surely.

The interview focused mainly on Ramaphosa’s new horizons as the deputy president of the ANC, and it shows just how far from the national agenda the tragedy of Marikana has slipped. As time goes by, and the horror numbs – even if it never quite subsides – the Commission will become the centre stage of the story. The mine, the settlement, the community will all slip into the background.

At the ANC’s conference in Mangaung, Marikana registered as a mere blip. It featured briefly in the president’s speech. 

“At a political level, the Marikana tragedy exposed the organisational challenges we face both at the workplace and in the community. We need to avoid the danger of distance between leaders and members, both at the workplace and in the communities,” he said.

The Commission is now only expected to complete hearings in May, with the report due to the government in June. When it was announced, the Commission chairman, retired Judge Ian Farlam, was supposed to hand in his report in January. Jacob Skosana, the head of policy at the Department of Justice, said to journalists: “Commission members have asked for an extension. They say they can wrap up the hearings within three months. But we are giving them until May. When they finish in May they will have one month to file the final report, which means by the end of June.” 

What we have seen of the Commission shows that the original deadline was hopelessly optimistic. It seems the president wasn’t aware of how broad and encompassing his terms of reference were. 

What this year will bring in terms of testimony we can only guess at – but surely the first batch of hearings must be remarkable for the signs that showed how the police tried to tamper with evidence, without much care. Why was this job done so sloppily, and thus so easily exposed by the Commission? Was it delusional arrogance, incompetence, or perhaps the knowledge that protection would come from the top offices?

The Commission is not without its critics. Peter Alexander, an academic and co-author of Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer, said that the case had become a lawyers’ paradise, and the Commission chairman was not being made to understand the depth of the pain and the suffering experienced in Marikana. 

It is not just the families of the dead miners who need closure. Several police died in the run-up to the 16 August massacre, as did two Lonmin employees. The Bapo Ba Mogale royal family and the Bapong tribe, from which Lonmin rents the land it mines, also demand closure, though of a different sort. These struggles were once intimately discussed across the country, and the government has already made many promises of change to come. 

The grim reality is that as the commission plods its way to June, the number of people who will care will dwindle. 

The Marikana tragedy once promised to shake the political status quo and jar the country into an honest discussion about the socio-economic conditions of mineworkers and their families. That seems less likely now. Even the most optimistic can only hope that justice is meted out fairly to all responsible for that horror week in August. DM

Photo: A policeman gestures in front of some of the dead miners after they were shot outside Marikana, August 16, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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