Well, it seemed a good idea at the time
20 January 2018 12:50 (South Africa)
South Africa

Marikana report: Time for justice, but will Phiyega be fired?

  • Greg Nicolson
    greg nicolson BW
    Greg Nicolson

    Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

  • South Africa

On 16 August 2012, 34 people were killed in Marikana by the police. Promising justice, President Jacob Zuma announced a commission of inquiry into the deaths, as well as those of 10 people killed in the preceding week. Today the commission's report is due. GREG NICOLSON looks at what we know from the inquiry and what to expect.

On Human Rights Day, a small group in the Workers' Museum in Newtown watched Miners Shot Down. After the film, a man sitting with a young boy raised his hand. He wanted to know the director's motivations, because after watching events unfold in Marikana and seeing the ongoing oppression of the black working class he felt like going to the nearest police station and burning it down.

Two-and-a-half years after the massacre, it's incorrect to say that justice hasn't been served. Justice has been inverted. Hundreds of striking miners were charged for causing the death of their own comrades. Liberation leaders and their allies have ignored a massacre so similar to those they now commemorate. No one from the SAPS, which killed dozens and then lied and deceived the public about its role, has been charged. There has been no closure for relatives of the victims – striking miners, non-striking miners, police and security guards. The Marikana Massacre turned justice into a fairytale.

If there is hope, it rests in a document to be delivered to President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday. When he established the inquiry in September 2012, Zuma mandated it to look into, make findings, report, and make recommendations on the events over the week in August 2012 that led to the death of 44 people, injured over 70, and led to around 250 arrests. The commission was set to investigate the roles of Lonmin, SAPS, AMCU, NUM, the Department of Mineral Resources and any other relevant government department. The inquiry was meant to last four months but dragged on for over two years and midway Zuma scrapped the part about investigating government departments. Much was left undone, with time concerns towards the end of the inquiry limiting who could be cross-examined and for how long, but we know much more than we did in 2012.

The strike was motivated not by union rivalry as much as issues caused by a lack of transformation in mining, the migrant labour system, and low pay. It followed a violent strike at Impala Platinum earlier in the year and led to Lonmin rock drill operators in August marching to demand a pay increase. First, they failed to get a reception with management and went to the NUM offices. NUM was the majority union but hadn't taken up their cause. There, a small group of NUM officials defending the office opened fire on the strikers, injuring marchers. That was when the strike turned violent. Miners armed themselves and moved to the koppie seeking safety.

In the coming days, two non-striking miners and two Lonmin security guards were killed by the protesters. The killings were brutal and evidence showed some victims' bodies were mutilated. The commission found little evidence of whom among the strikers were responsible, but Lonmin was criticised for trying to keep the mine operational, despite the risk to non-striking workers. Then, on 13 August, five people were killed in a single day, including two police officers. The SAPS fired teargas and stun-grenades at miners while escorting them back to the koppie, which sparked the violence, but it was unclear who, if anyone, made the order. Some parties at the commission blamed Deputy North West Police Commissioner William Mpembe and also said officers who fired certain bullets should be charged.

In the run up to 16 August, worker Isaiah Twala was also killed. On 14 August he was found dead with a bull's skull on his body, accused of being a spy. At the commission, Xolani Nzuza, who was second in command among workers during the strike, denied knowledge of the details of the killings of non-striking workers, refused to apologise and said it's the SAPS's job to catch murderers. Various protesters have been charged with murder for the period in the lead up to the massacre and the charges will likely proceed after the commission's report is submitted.

While violence on the ground was escalating, evidence to the commission found exchanges between Lonmin, the SAPS, NUM and state leaders fundamentally influenced the outcome of the strike. After the Impala strike earlier in the year, Lonmin had decided not to negotiate if its workers followed. Essentially, while Lonmin refused to meet workers, the company asked for help from Cyril Ramaphosa, then a non-executive director with ties to top state and ANC leaders, to end the violence. He spoke to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and convinced them to view the strike as “dastardly criminal”, calling for “appropriate action”. His correspondence, while unlikely to be criticised harshly by the commission, was crucial. The former union leader was advocating not for wage negotiations or even a hearing with the workers but for the police force to end the strike.

The message percolated through the top echelons and a transcript from a conversation between North West Police Commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo and Lonmin's Bernard Mokwena on 14 August referred to Ramaphosa applying political pressure on Mthethwa and Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega to solve the crisis. At the commission, both Mthethwa and Phiyega said they said they would not bow to outside pressure, but the transcript clearly suggests they linked Ramaphosa to ending the crisis with force so as to avoid Julius Malema intervening like he did at Impala. The next day, 15 August, leadership of the SAPS from across the country met and discussed Marikana. They decided to implement the “tactical phase”, dispersing, disarming, and arresting the next day. This meeting was not disclosed to the commission and there is no recorded notes of significance, nor could anyone present remember the details.

For 16 August, the day the SAPS and Lonmin had decided to end the strike, 4,000 rounds of ammunition had been ordered to Marikana as well as mortuary vans. Police units came from across the country, including the National Intervention Unit, the Tactical Response Team (TRT), Public Order Policing, the Special Intervention Unit, and the dog squad. Mbombo had announced in the morning the SAPS would end the strike that day, despite a lack of intelligence and no specific rise in threat levels. Hopes of negotiation had been pinned on AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa, but he was refused a meeting with Lonmin, and Bishop Joe Seoka, who wanted to mediate but left because his attempts were futile.

Set on proceeding, the police communicated an insufficient plan poorly to SAPS members. When the koppie was surrounded by barbed wire the miners fled. Those who opted to walk towards the settlement had an opportunity to attack the police, but they didn't. They walked slowly until they were boxed in between a kraal and police. Ten seconds before the televised shootings police finally used non-lethal weapons in their plan to disperse, disarm and arrest the miners, but they forced them into a line of TRT officers who opened fire with live ammunition. The plan and implementation was criticised by policing experts and when the TRT opened fire they mostly failed to shoot into the ground or stop shooting when “cease fire” was called. Ambulances were only able to access the scene an hour later, after police had treated the bodies with disdain, and 17 people died from the live fire.

Instead of ending the operation, the killing continued. Different police units chased the miners to a smaller koppie and killed another 17. Some were killed execution-style and police bragged of their exploits. No one has taken responsibility for what happened but parties at the commission have recommended criminal charges for those who led the operation. Meanwhile, each leader at the central command centre, including the provincial commissioner, denied having heard about and sanctioned the ongoing killings. They said they only heard about the first scene after the later killings were complete, effectively washing their hands of the deaths. Yet evidence shows they must have heard about the killings at the first scene and failed to stop, or sanctioned, the continued killings.

It was the first massacre in democratic South Africa, 34 dead in a single day and many more injured, some with disabilities for life.

In the aftermath, misinformation reigned. The authorities either didn't care or spun the situation. Phiyega congratulated the police and said it represented the best of South African policing. The miners were blamed, painted as muthi-fuelled maniacs bent on killing cops. Strikers were locked up under an apartheid law blaming them for the killings committed by police. During the commission the SAPS's behaviour was disgusting. It hid and altered evidence and victimised any officers who didn't toe the line. Phiyega, the police commissioner, lied and misled the inquiry, setting the tone for her staff.

So who will be recommended to be charged with criminal offences? It's uncertain is how chairman Ian Farlam and his co-commissioners Pingla Devi Hemraj and Bantubonke Tokota treat the police and politicians. The politicians are likely to get off, as is Riah Phiyega, although her appearance was so poor she could be seen as unfit for office. While the politicians' influence could be considered as contributing to the violence, their seperation from the ground forces and constant denials make them difficult targets. Mbombo, Mpembe and police leaders close to operations like Charl Annandale, Adriaan Calitz, and Ganasen Naidoo and those who pulled the triggers could be recommended for criminal prosecution, most likely for culpable homicide, or potentially in some cases murder. The strikers though are an easy target and will likely be recommended to be charged murder where links to evidence can be made.

The potential for justice, if this report goes beyond a fairytale, rests with President Zuma. Already there are concerns about whether he will release the report, but following the trend in past inquiries and the potential for protest it seems likely he will release it. The problem then is implementation. If the commission recommends Riah Phiyega be fired, will she go? If the National Prosecuting Authority is told to charge politicians or police officers, will it? And if the relatives of the victims are to be financially compensated, beyond a job at Lonmin, will they ever see the money?

While the issue seems far from over, it's important to remember the names of those who died that week:

Tembelakhe Mati, born 10 October 1963

Hendrick Tsietsi Monene, born 1 April 1965

Sello Ronnie Lepaaku, born 23 January 1967

Hassan Fundi, born 1 April 1965

Frans Mabelane, born 6 November 1964

Thapelo Eric Mabebe, born 9 June 1975

Semi Jokanisi, born 25 December 1982

Phumzile Sokanyile, born 21 May 1964

Isaiah Twala, born 18 January 1961

Julius Langa, born 27 January 1953

Molefi Osiel Ntsoele, born 1 January 1972

Modisaotsile Van Wyk Sagalala, born 2 July 1952

Nkosiyabo Xalabile, born 11 March 1952

Babalo Mtshazi, born 25 February 1986

John Kutlwano 'Papi' Ledingoane, born 22 April 1988

Bongani Nqongophele, born 27 September 1981

Cebisile Yawa, born 5 July 1988

Mongezeleli Ntenetya, born 9 June 1978

Mvuyisi Henry Pato, born 13 November 1977

Ntandazo Nokamba, born 6 January 1976

Bongani Mdze, born 5 May 1984

Bonginkosi Yona, born 6 December 1980

Makhosandile Mkhonjwa, born 20 February 1983

Stelega Gadlela, born 1 January 1962

Telang Vitalis Mohai, born 6 October 1975

Janeveke Raphael Liau, born 14 September 1967

Fezile David Saphendu, born 24 December 1988

Anele Mdizeni, born 6 February 1983

Mzukisi Sompeta, born 3 January 1976

Thabiso Johannes Thelejane, born 30 October 1955

Mphangeli Thukuza, born 16 November 1970

Thobile Mpumza, born 6 July 1986

Mgcineni 'Mambush' Noki, born 2 February 1982

Thobisile Zibambele, born 10 Spetember 1973

Thabiso Mosebetsane, born 7 February 1963

Andries Motlapula Ntshenyeho, born 15 June 1970

Patrick Akhona Jijase, born 12 March 1986

Julius Tokoti Mancotywa, born 22 April 1988

Michael Ngweyi, born 3 March 1973

Jackson Lehupa, born 8 May 1964

Khanare Elias Monesa, born 21 January 1976

Mpumzeni Ngxande, born 22 June 1974

Thembinkosi Gwelani, born 6 July 1965

Mafolisi Mabiya, born 20 November 1983. DM

Main Pic South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is silhouetted in the Farlam Commission.( REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

  • Greg Nicolson
    greg nicolson BW
    Greg Nicolson

    Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

  • South Africa

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