During her 80th birthday party last year, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela roasted her guests, a cross-section of political leaders. She turned to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and said she wouldn’t say a word about Marikana. But she said she wanted to start a campaign to support Marikana’s widows and orphans. She expected Ramaphosa’s help.
Since 2012, Ramaphosa’s role in the Marikana Massacre has been a burden over his otherwise laudable career in politics and business and on Sunday the deputy president addressed the issue. His comments came as the victims of the massacre continue to fight for justice and Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential election campaign gets under way.
“Madikizela-Mandela has said to me: ‘DP, this matter needs to be addressed. I want to go with you to Marikana.’ I have said, ‘Mama, I will accept your counsel,’” Ramaphosa said at Rhodes University on Sunday. He claimed he intervened as a non-executive director at Lonmin to save lives after multiple people had been killed during the strike at the platinum company. “I have apologised and I do apologise that I did not use appropriate language but I never had the intention to have 34 other mineworkers killed.” As a former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), he said he’d never advocate for the killing of miners.
Ronnie Mamoepa, the deputy president’s spokesperson, said there’s a “determination” to visit Marikana but discussions are still under way. “We are not too big to say, ‘I’m sorry,’” he said, pointing to Ramaphosa’s strength of character.
The Rhodes comments have been reported as an act of contrition, but Ramaphosa was reiterating the defences he used when accused of inciting the massacre. Before the massacre, but after a number of people had been killed during the August 2012 strike, Ramaphosa’s Lonmin colleagues asked for his help. He contacted the mineral resources minister at the time, Susan Shabangu, and police minister, Nathi Mthethwa, and tried to persuade them that the strike was a criminal issue rather than a labour dispute. He set up a meeting with NUM leaders; the union was against the strike.
“They are plainly dastardly criminal[s] and must be characterised as such,” wrote Ramaphosa to the leader of Lonmin at the time. He called for “concomitant action”, “containing the situation” and to “act correctly”. While apologising for his language on Sunday, he maintained he was only trying to prevent further bloodshed. Lawyer Dali Mpofu accused him of being part of a chain of events that caused the massacre, and wanted him to be charged with murder. He claimed Ramaphosa’s insistence that the strike be classified as a criminal issue rather than a labour dispute was meant to serve the interests of politics and profit, and it led to the police response that caused 34 deaths on 16 August.
Ramaphosa has also been accused of failing to prevent the massacre. As a former leader of mineworkers, he was asked why he didn’t try to mediate the dispute. His hands were tied, he claimed, and he allowed management to deal with the strike. Lonmin managers refused to meet workers before the massacre. He also failed, despite his role within Lonmin, to address issues such as housing in Marikana, one of the drivers for the strike. Ramaphosa claimed he did what he could.
The report from the Marikana Commission of Inquiry said there was no basis for claims that Ramaphosa was the cause of the massacre or for the crimes of which he was accused.
Representatives of the victims of the Marikana Massacre received Ramaphosa’s Sunday comments with caution.
Nomzamo Zondo, an attorney for the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), which represents the families of 36 deceased mineworkers, said, “For them, this is not an apology. If Cyril Ramaphosa wants to make an apology he must come and do it in person.” Families of the killed mineworkers have often complained that the state makes pronouncements in the media without consulting them. Zondo said the families would listen to Ramaphosa if he visited Marikana or the Eastern Cape, home to many of the families of the deceased. “If someone comes and speaks to them personally, they will listen. They want an apology. They want a sincere apology.”
Activist Napoleon Webster, who has been in prison for 124 days after being charged with murder for a mob justice killing in Marikana, said on Monday, “Cyril should be where I am, not me. Cyril should be here for all of the murders.” There’s still a belief among some Marikana activists that Ramaphosa should be criminally charged. Webster was speaking from prison through the Marikana Support Campaign. “He took five years to apologise. He thinks it’s the right time when the anger has substantially gone down.”
Webster said the pain has reduced in Marikana, but he said the effects of the massacre, as well as of the mining industry and government’s failures, remain. He pointed to the shortage in housing, unemployment, a lack of basic services, residents fighting for scraps in the mining sector. Webster will face another bail hearing on Tuesday and maintains that the charges against him have been trumped up by those who saw him as an obstacle to the powers in Marikana, which police have denied. He led the occupation of RDP houses in the area and has protested against Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma.
The Marikana Support Campaign’s Rehad Desai said that while an apology is welcome, “We are deeply circumspect about such an apology in the context of the election race. But we would welcome it. I’m sure the widows and the victims would welcome him coming to Marikana to explain his actions.”
Families of those killed and the injured and arrested mineworkers are still fighting the state for compensation and, despite assurances, no police offers have been charged for the massacre. Mineworkers have been charged for a number of murders. “In this context the apology means very little because Cyril Ramaphosa is also the deputy president of the country now,” said Desai.
Zondo said the state has offered compensation to 30 of the 36 families SERI represents for loss of support, but the state’s lawyers are still looking at figures to offer the other six families. The families are “very upset” that no criminal charges have been laid against SAPS officials and Zondo said the NPA promised to update them on 30 April but they have not heard anything.
NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said prosecutors are still looking at the dockets against police officers and no decision has been taken on whether to lay charges. He said North West prosecutors are leading the investigations and they would not have promised anyone a date on which to relay their decisions on whether to lay charges.
The Internal Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), which is investigating police involved in the Marikana Massacre, has said a lack of funding has delayed its probes. IPID head Robert McBride dismissed the SAPS’s own investigation that cleared 87 officers of wrongdoing. Desai said while IPID lacks funding, the state continues to pay suspended officials, like former commissioner Phiyega.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Mamoepa, said the deputy president wasn’t responsible for leading the criminal charges or compensation. He pointed to statements from the president and said from the state’s side Zuma’s office has taken responsibility for dealing with the matters.
Ramaphosa’s Marikana comments came as his campaign for ANC president heats up. In recent weeks he has differentiated himself from Zuma and his chosen successor Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by speaking out against corruption and championing integrity and accountability. His campaign has just began, but a number of prominent ANC members have now endorsed him for president.
University of Witwatersrand professor and author Susan Booysen said while the ANC hasn’t held Marikana against Ramaphosa – he was elected deputy party president in 2012 after the massacre – he can’t ignore the claims against him and needs to deflect the damage. “It does constrain Ramaphosa. It does disadvantage his campaign,” she said. Booysen, however, noted that Zuma’s government and his appointees, such as suspended Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, were directly involved and any implications against Ramaphosa reflect negatively on his rival faction.
“I think it’s going to go a long way if he goes there and confronts that political cross that he bears,” said Booysen on Ramaphosa’s attempts to deal with Marikana. Exposing himself to his harshest criticts could help the image he is trying to create.
Political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni, from the University of South Africa, said the issue of corruption has been dominant recently and the only impropriety Ramaphosa could be linked to is his R18-million bid for a buffalo and Marikana. While the Marikana debate has largely been ignored by the ANC, Fikeni said it would be used by detractors to link the deputy president to “white minority capital”. He said Ramaphosa’s comments would come as a “huge relief” to his supporters. “It brought a human dimension from what might have been seen as a heartless businessman.” DM
Photo of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa by Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick.
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