South Africa

Marikana Commission: Why did non-employees join the strike?

By Sipho Hlongwane 14 March 2013

The lawyer for the National Union of Mineworkers at the Marikana Commission, Karel Tip, cross-examined a survivor of the 16 August massacre on Tuesday and Wednesday to discover why he, too, wanted R12,500 even though he was not a rock-drill operator. What emerged instead was the depth of the trauma suffered that day. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The 24-year old Mzoxolo Magidiwana spoke softly and hesitantly, via a Xhosa translator. He was giving evidence in a three-week marathon before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry in Rustenburg, called because he was extraordinarily lucky to survive police bullets on that fateful day, 16 August 2012. (Thirty-four of his colleagues weren’t as fortunate.)

Magidiwana was not supposed to still be on the stand on Wednesday. National police commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega was meant to begin her testimony, but postponed by a day at the last moment. Also, the testimony by the miner has been so intricate and in need of unpacking that it was almost inevitable that Phiyega would have to wait.

Speaking after National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana gave his version of events, Magidiwana has been one of the first voices that survived the massacre to speak before commission chairman Judge Ian Farlam. His account of what happened to him was graphic and often moved him to tears.

The wildcat strike germinated amongst the tough rock-drill operators at Lonmin, but by the time it reached its peak, more than 3,000 people were gathering and demonstrating – many of them working in other types of jobs, or not at all. Magidiwana was one of those who joined to demand the same pay as the RDOs even though he wasn’t one himself.

He was on the big koppie when the police began to surround the miners, and tried to walk away when he and his friends realised that they were in potential trouble. He was one of those shot in front of the television cameras.

“As soon as we emerged on the other side of the kraal, we were met with rapid gunfire. I was hit on my left leg. I stumbled and fell behind the others who had been shot, including Noki,” he said.

“Shortly afterwards I could hear voices of policemen approaching the place where we had fallen. When they got to me, I was again shot several times from close range whilst I was on the ground.”

He was hit in his abdomen and testicles. He pleaded with the police to kill him rather than let him live with his wounds, Magidiwana told the commission. The police chose to mock him instead, and he lost consciousness on the scene, waking up in a Johannesburg hospital two weeks later.

A sworn affidavit presented by the miner said: “I am in severe pain from the wounds on my legs, abdomen, elbow and testicles. I have been advised that there is a strong possibility that I may never be able to father children.”

Under cross-examination from Lonmin’s Terry Motau SC, Magidiwana was asked why the company should have been expected to meet and negotiate with armed miners. He replied and said that had the company been willing to meet from the beginning, there would have been no escalation of tensions.

“If your child is hungry and wants food, you take notice of the fact that the child is hungry. You don’t put the dogs on the child for being hungry,” Magidiwana said.

National Union of Mineworkers lawyer Karel Tip once again uncovered the sense of shared aggrievement when he asked why all striking miners demanded R12,500 when they weren’t all RDOs, and was told that they all earned pretty much the same amount, and therefore thought they were in an equal plight, deserving of equal relief.

“I would have been happy to receive R20,000, but the strike was, according to me, to receive something in excess of R10,000,” Magidiwana said.

During several occasions in his lengthy testimony, video footage of the shooting was shown. Magidiwana was able to identify himself in some of the images. He cried twice on Wednesday alone, as he described his trauma and memory of pain after being shot.

Police lawyer Ishmael Semenya said that they would argue that the miners’ version of events was not true. The contention is the position where the miner was shot. The police’s version supports self-defence for the police.

The manner in which Magidiwana was cross-examined disconcerted spectators at times. The aggression eventually prompted the Marikana Solidarity Campaign to ask Farlam to protect witnesses from intimidation.

“Mzoxolo Magidiwana, who has 12 bullets in his body, attended the commission on crutches and in considerable pain, and was cross-examined last week by Advocate Ngalwana in a bullying, sneering and inappropriate way, causing him to break down in tears. Despite his evident distress, the onslaught of repeated questions continued. We believe that miner witnesses should be protected from this kind of questioning,” campaign spokesman Rehad Desai said.

The police commissioner Phiyega is expected to testify on what she knew about the operation, and to what extent the day’s events could have been prevented by different leadership decisions. The commission has already been able to establish that the police did not follow their own guideline for dealing with crowd protests by deploying paramilitary units instead of public order policing, who are specifically trained.

Also of interest from Phiyega would be to know the extent to which the police had the blessing of the political principals to carry out the operation in the way that they did. It will most likely be an exercise in attempting to find blame all the way up the chain of command. Phiyega is pretty close to the top. DM

Photo: Lonmin employees gather on Wonderkop at Marikana, outside August 15, 2012. (Greg Marinovich)


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