Three years after the most “shocking, unprecedented, murderous action in the new democratic South Africa” – the killing by police of 34 striking Lonmin miners and the wounding of 78 others at Marikana on August 16, 2012 – the tragedy continues to bleed into headlines as pressure mounts for President Zuma to make the final report of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry public and to act on recommendations.
On Monday, police confirmed that two men, Zenzile Nxenge and Sizakhele Kwazile, had been arrested in connection with the 5 October 2012 murder of Daluvuyo Bongo, a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch secretary the union said was due to present key testimony at the Farlam Commission.
Meanwhile Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), has charged that the killers of Mawethu Stevens, AMCU’s North West regional organiser who was gunned down while watching a football match on TV in May 2013 have still not been arrested. On May 1, Mathunjwa addressed a May Day Rally in Orkney claiming that at least 15 AMCU members had been murdered since 2012.
The Marikana massacre is a pivotal moment in democratic South Africa and President Zuma’s response to the recommendations contained in the final Farlam Commission of Inquiry report – compiled after around 300 days of grueling testimony and which is believed to implicate police – will present a crucial opportunity for the ruling party to display whether it has the political will to charge those responsible for the massacre.
The Marikana massacre has also provided a contemporary case study of global power relations between capital and labour in the 21st Century, and in fact features in the opening chapter of Thomas Piketty’s international bestseller Capital in the Twenty First Century.
Piketty writes of the massacre that “this episode reminds us, if we need reminding, that the question of what share of output should go to wages and what share to profits – in other words, how should the income from production be divided between labour and capital? – has always been at the heart of distributional conflict.”
Meanwhile, Rehad Desai’s award-winning documentary, Miners Shot Down, which has been screened at festivals around the world but has not been picked up by the SABC or e.tv, will receive three screenings at the Franschhoek Literary Festival due to take place this weekend. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion between Terry Bell of the Human Rights Media Trust and Zivia Desai Keiper of Uhuru Productions.
At the end of last month, Bishop Johannes Seoka, Anglican Bishop of Pretoria who also played a leading role in ending the strike, made an impassioned plea for more humane business practices at an annual BASF shareholder’s meeting in Mannheim Germany. BASF is the world’s largest chemical company and sources platinum from Lonmin.
The company, which uses platinum and rhodium in the manufacture of catalytic convertors, has a long-standing relationship with Lonmin and purchased around R6 billion worth of the metal from the mine in 2014.
Apart from inviting shareholders to visit Marikana, Seoka asked those gathered eight questions including what their reaction had been to the news “that one of your most important platinum suppliers is co-responsible for murder and the violation of human rights”, what they were prepared to do to improve the lives “of those who contribute towards your wealth”, whether they would remain silent “knowing what happened in the name of your investment”, what lessons and conclusions they could learn from the event and whether they would “willingly contribute an additional 10 percent of the price of each platinum ounce you buy from Lonmin as a planning security contribution for the communities of workers”.
Bishop Seoka, whose Diocese covers the platinum belt in the North West, introduced himself as the chairman of the Bench Marks Foundation, which had released a damning report on the conditions for miners at Lonmin two days before the massacre took place.
Seoka’s plea, presented in German by Markus Dufner of the Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany, was aimed at BASF shareholders, he said, because “Germany is the world’s second largest importer of platinum and BASF is the world’s largest producer of catalytic converters, which underlines the essential need for a safe and stable supply of platinum and other platinum group metals. That is what really connects us here at a concrete level.”
He suggested that by working together “we can change the image of an uncaring company that is only interested in profit margins but does not care about the development of people and the eco-system.”
Seoka informed those present that he was one of three leaders – along with AMCU’s Joseph Mathunjwa and Advocate Dali Mpofu – appointed by the miners “to provide leadership in their struggle for justice”.
“So, I am not here talking for myself but I am the voice of those your business partner in South Africa have silenced, the voiceless miners of Lonmin.”
He said that as shareholders of BASF, those gathered were no doubt aware of the massacre that had occurred and “therefore you must be worried how your money is invested, when a primary business partner is accused of being co-responsible for the massacre and therefore violation of human rights. It was a shocking unprecedented murderous action in the new democratic South Africa.”
South Africans, he added, were anxiously waiting the outcome of the Farlam Commission but there was suspicion “that the truth will never be known”.
“Most of these miners were shot with their hands up and some in their back, which means they were not fighting but surrendering and running away from the attacking forces. This is the biggest massacre since Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 in a protest against Apartheid laws.
“I think it is important for you to know that the majority of the people, who dig out the world’s most precious metal which BASF is processing into catalysts, work and live under inhuman conditions; they live in shack-slums without running water, electricity and no access to proper municipal services. Over years they were confronted with empty promises of Lonmin.”
While Seoka’s address was reportedly “well received” by shareholders and many were “shocked” by the exposures, BASF CEO, Kurt Bock, responded that while the BASF board was “disturbed” by what had happened in South Africa “it’s really difficult for us to make judgments here from a distance.” As a result BASF would be unwilling to pay into a fund that would go towards the families of those killed.
According to one report, some shareholders had been surprised to learn that BASF was a main customer of Lonmin’s, and said they supported Bishop Seoka’s demands. DM
Photo: South African police check the bodies of striking mineworkers shot dead at the Wonderkop informal settlement near Marikana platinum mine, Rustenburg, South Africa, 16 August 2012. EPA/STR
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