“I deeply regret, deeply regret, the deaths of all the people who died in Marikana –”
“He killed them!” interrupted an activist.
“He’s a sell out this man,” yelled another.
“Capitalists are using him.”
“Buffalo head! R18 million buffalo! People are hungry in Venda! Bastard!”
While Ramaphosa was finishing his testimony at the Marikana Commission, he was once again interrupted by activists and mineworkers blaming him for the deaths in August 2012 at Lonmin. He has been vilified as a symbol of the state’s violence, and in a day of high drama as he was cross-examined, Dali Mpofu said he should be charged with murder.
Mpofu argued Ramaphosa was a key operator in Lonmin’s attempts to end the strike without hurting the mining giant financially. Lonmin didn’t want to engage the rock drill operators (RDOs) who embarked on a wildcat strike because they might then have to pay them high increases as seen at Impala Platinum earlier in the year, he said. To break the strikes, management latched onto reports of violence and intimidation and then dispatched Ramaphosa to convince his connections, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, to classify the strike as criminal, rather than a labour dispute, or a labour dispute with criminal elements. Criminal classification – dastardly murder – would bring the full force of the police, the “shoot to kill” and “fight fire with fire” approach. The strike would be forcefully broken and those who wanted to work could work; Lonmin and Ramaphosa’s Shanduka, through the company Incwala, could keep the platinum flowing.
“At the top of the chain is your pressure,” Mpofu said of the sequence of events that led to the Marikana massacre. Ramaphosa has maintained he intervened, did what Mpofu called a “dirty dozen” acts, contacting ministers, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the Chamber of Mines and talked to Lonmin to prevent more deaths, to stabilise the situation so that negotiations might begin.
During Mpofu’s cross-examination, the evidence took second place to the drama. For example, accused of acting with a conflict of interest, the deputy president argued that if parties know each other and meet to find a mutual good, like ending violence, it’s not a conflict of interest. Ramaphosa said Mpofu came to him on Monday and said he was waiting for President Jacob Zuma’s signature so he could become a senior counsel. “I’ve been trying to be certified as a senior counsel. Is there anything you can do?” Mpofu asked, according to Ramaphosa.
“He mustn’t lie,” yelled Mpofu. The deputy president explained he wanted to help Mpofu and it wasn’t a conflict of interest, just like when he intervened to ensure safety in Marikana.
“Say what you want so we can go back to the murder,” Mpofu sneered.
Then there was Mpofu’s convoluted questioning, using argument instead of eliciting incriminating responses, dropping non-relative clauses like it’s hot, and drawing constant objections from other lawyers. Mpofu asked why Ramaphosa only pushed for police intervention, never telling Lonmin to engage the workers as they had requested. “This notion of yours that you were intervening to stop criminality and stop violence is utterly baseless because the very violence that resulted with the 10 people would have been avoided if you had performed your duty that Lonmin talks to the strikers and performs their duties that I’ve shown to you this morning. Do you understand?”
“Chair, that’s a very, very long question,” intervened Ramaphosa’s counsel.
“I’m not talking to you! I’m not asking you, I’m asking the witness.”
The two days of testimony helped defined Ramaphosa’s level of responsibility, but it will largely depend on whether the Commission believes him and other witnesses. Firstly, Ramaphosa admits he could have done more to convince Lonmin to talk to the workers, but he says he was focused on the immediate safety threat.
Then there’s the political pressure. Ramaphosa’s communication with Lonmin executives shows he was only concerned about the police involvement. He admits he contacted Mthethwa and Shabangu and wanted the president to be informed so police could mobilise to focus police on identifying and arresting those who committed violence. A transcript from a conversation between Lonmin’s Bernard Mokoena and North West Police Commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo suggests political pressure was relayed. In the transcript, Mbombo says Mthethwa told her Ramaphosa was applying political pressure. They admit to not wanting Julius Malema to resolve the situation like he did at Impala. After talking about Malema and political pressure, Mbombo adds, “Hence, I just told these guys that we need to act such that we kill this thing.”
Lonmin’s Mokoena replies, “Immediately yes.”
This was the causal link, argued Mpofu, connecting Ramaphosa’s intervention that led the ministers to push for a strong police response and for the police commissioners to support an inadequate plan to disperse and disarm thousands of mineworkers at a poor time (the plan was devised to be enacted in the morning; it happened in the afternoon), and gave cops angry at the death of their two colleagues legitimacy to kill the mineworkers on 16 August. Even after police intervention on 13 August led to the death of two cops and three mineworkers, Ramaphosa still called for a “more pointed” SAPS response.
Looking at the events, it seems clear political pressure led to bad decision-making on the ground and ultimately a massacre. But Ramaphosa, and all others involved, have denied they pressured anyone to that effect. Ramaphosa’s only intention was to ensure the community was safe, he told the Commission on Tuesday. He never prescribed what the police should do. He didn’t know their plans. He didn’t get the impression the ministers he spoke to felt pressured, he said. He never anticipated or expected what happened.
On Monday, he offered broad apologies, admitting he could have done more to facilitate negotiations, but focused more on miners’ living conditions. “We all had a role to play and somewhere along the line we may not have fulfilled them,” he said of Lonmin’s leaders.
“I think the responsibility at the board level as a non-executive board member at Lonmin one should have sought to find out more closely the actual process of negotiation with the union, that would have I would concede I should have done,” said Ramaphosa.
“I should have probed that. I would also concede that I should have looked more closely at the unintended consequences that flowed from paying workers a living out allowance and finally getting them the point where they took the money and finally went to live in less than desirable accommodating where they face challenges of nutrition, challenges of having to pay a lot of money for transport. As companies that is what we should have done. We should have looked more closely at where the workers live and how they live because the living conditions that workers were exposed to is not something that I can I say I would be proud to be associated with. In fact they’re appalling. They’re inhuman and that is what I should have and indeed the board should have paid closer attention.”
When Mthethwa appeared at the Commission, he refuted the argument that he could be pressured. National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega was a stonewall, scared to answer anything. Her provincial commissioner Mbombo said the word “pressure” in her conversation came from her, not Mthethwa or Phiyega; it’s just something she says, she argued, not meaning pressure in what we mean when we say pressure. Susan Shabangu is still to testify.
Throughout the day, Mpofu sat next to a man with a cream jacket and a worn miner’s hat, like an ancient Hogwarts Sorting Hat. Siphethe Phasha joined NUM in 1982; Ramaphosa was his hero. He was shot by police in the foot in Marikana. Now he wants justice, said Mpofu. Because of their power, Phasha doesn’t believe state officials will be held to account. He wants to take the case to the International Criminal Court.
That seems unlikely, as does getting the Commission to recommend the National Prosecuting Authority to charge Ramaphosa and Co. The evidence strongly suggests political power played a part in causing the murder of the mineworkers. Proving it directly is way more difficult. Ramaphosa might be the symbol of state violence, but he and all the other players involved have denied culpability, refused to submit to arguments that they were pressured or applied pressure, and haven’t yet been caught out in their denials. The Commission doesn’t know exactly what they discussed and so far they have supported each other’s arguments that they did their best to peacefully resolve the situation.
From the last two days at the Commission, it’s clear Ramaphosa didn’t help the situation – perhaps he was negligent, he could have done more, and maybe his intervention indirectly caused political pressure that influenced bad police decisions. It seems unlikely, however, the victims will ever get their “buffalo head” in court. DM
Photo: South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is silhouetted in the Farlam Commission, in Centurion, outside Pretoria August 11, 2014. Ramaphosa is facing a probe into the 2012 Marikana killings of striking miners. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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