On the afternoon of 14 August 2012 Mgcineni Noki climbed onto the bull bar of a police Nyala vehicle to talk to SAPS negotiators through a porthole. Nine people had already been killed during the strike at Lonmin and the police had approached the Marikana koppie to ask thousands of striking mineworkers to lay down their weapons and disperse.
Noki, known as “the man in the green blanket”, approached the Nyala with four other men. The strike was about wages, he told the police, and workers wanted to speak to Lonmin company managers. He explained that the workers had gathered on the koppie days earlier after members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had fired shots at them.
When the police heard that another worker, Lonmin supervisor Isiah Twala, had been murdered, negotiations with Noki and the other leaders were postponed until the next day
At the same time, North West SAPS commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo was meeting with Bernard Mokoena, Lonmin’s executive vice-president of human relations and external affairs.
A transcript of their conversation, which was originally hidden from the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, shows that the Lonmin executive blamed the Association of Mineworkers and Construction (AMCU) for the unrest and wanted the strikers arrested. Despite the bloodshed, he did not want to engage with the workers’ wage demands outside of formal bargaining channels.
In the transcript, Mbombo revealed that SAPS officers planned to encircle the strikers the next day. If they did not surrender their weapons and disperse, “it is blood”, said North West’s top cop.
She explained that Cyril Ramaphosa, a non-executive director at Lonmin as well as an ANC national executive committee member, had pressured Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa to act. She told Mokoena there was a risk of EFF leader Julius Malema intervening and taking credit for defusing the situation.
Mokoena said 15 August 2012 would be “D-Day” but the SAPS thought it would be a breach of faith to implement the “tactical option” while negotiations with strike leaders continued. The police also hoped NUM leader Senzeni Zokwana and AMCU’s Joseph Mathunjwa — who had both agreed during a radio show on SAfm on the morning of 15 August to visit Marikana — might convince the strikers to stand down.
Neither option worked and, on the afternoon of 16 August 2012, the police opened fire on strikers who were leaving the koppie and then chased and fired on those who ran away, killing 34 people and injuring many more. Ten people had died in the week leading up to the massacre and more deaths followed as a climate of violence, power contestation and reprisal took hold.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has charged a number of police officers for the deaths of three mineworkers and two SAPS members on 13 August 2012, but eight years later no one has been charged for the killings on 16 August.
“I was expecting to see someone jailed. I was expecting to see someone arrested for taking my father’s life just like that,” Nowile Nungu told a webinar organised by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) and the C19 People’s Coalition on Thursday 14 August 2020.
Her father Jackson Lehupa was killed by the police at “scene one” of the massacre. Nungu was at school in Grade 7 at the time.
“It’s really painful and heartbreaking and traumatising,” she said.
Raphael Jeneveke Liau was one of the mineworkers killed at what was dubbed the “small koppie”, where strikers tried to flee following the first round of gunfire. The SAPS originally concealed the fact that there were multiple killing scenes.
Sebolai Liau was in Grade 8 when his father was gunned down. “By now I was expecting to hear that at least so many police had been arrested for their actions because those people did not die a natural death,” he said from Lesotho during the webinar.
Liau and Nungu are both beneficiaries of the 1608 Memorial Trust, established by Lonmin to support education of the deceased’s dependents. Sibanye-Stillwater, which has continued the programme after taking over Lonmin, said the trust had spent R32-million funding 141 beneficiaries.
Sibanye-Stillwater and AMCU have committed to donating houses to all the Marikana widows. The company handed over six of a planned 19 houses this week, while it’s understood that AMCU is building 25 homes.
The company continues to employ a chosen family member of the deceased, as is the practice in the mining industry after an employee dies. Family members, including 22 widows, of all 44 people who were killed took up employment at Lonmin. One widow has subsequently resigned.
The government has paid compensation for loss of support to the families of 36 people killed at Marikana, but negotiations continue over general damages claims, with the families unhappy at the state’s offer. Representing 36 families, SERI continues to push for constitutional damages, similar to those awarded to the relatives of patients who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
Of the 279 mineworkers who were injured or arrested at Marikana, only some of those who were unlawfully arrested – and charged with causing the death of their fellow mineworkers – have been compensated. None of the workers who were injured has received payment, according to reports.
Liau said that while the 1608 Memorial Trust paid for him to go to an upmarket private school after his father was killed, he had also had to play the role of a father to his younger siblings. He was irritated, he said, that his family had been devastated yet “murderers” were still going to work and sleeping in their beds at night, and their children were eating decent meals.
“Each year has passed without justice for the mineworkers and their families,” said SERI in an anniversary statement. “Since 2012, only nine police officers have been prosecuted for the deaths of three striking mineworkers and two police officers. However, the National Prosecuting Authority, has failed to prosecute anyone for the deaths of the 34 mineworkers who were shot and killed by the police on 16 August 2012.”
The NPA was not able to respond to requests for comment on its investigations at the time of writing.
Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) spokesperson Ndileka Cola said six SAPS members had been charged for the deaths on 13 August 2012 but the case had been remanded due to Covid-19 with a new court date yet to be announced.
Four police officers have been charged for covering up the death of Modisaotsile Van Wyk Sagalala, whom police said died in hospital but actually died in a SAPS van.
Regarding IPID’s investigations into the killing of the 34 mineworkers on 16 August at scene one and two, Cola said, “These cases are still being investigated.”
The Marikana Commission of Inquiry, which sat from 2012 to 2015, went beyond recommending further investigations for potential prosecutions. It said widespread reforms in policing protests were needed.
Retired Judge Ian Farlam, who chaired the commission, heard that the Public Order Policing unit’s approach at Marikana was completely inadequate. He recommended a panel of experts be established to revise SAPS strategies. The panel submitted its report in 2018 but the Minister of Police has not made it public — despite recent pleas from panel members.
“A lack of political will to deliver any form of justice to the families is evidenced by the failure to prosecute those responsible,” said SERI. “In addition, the government has yet to release the report by the Panel of Experts on Policing and Crowd Management which was completed in 2018.”
International policing expert Cees de Rover testified at the Marikana Commission and was a member of the panel of experts. “I cannot find words to explain or justify eight years to the families of those who lost their loved ones at Marikana and are still waiting for justice and compensation,” he said.
“The report of the panel of experts with its annexure documents has now been with the Minister for Police for more than two years. That is unacceptable when considering what is at stake.”
Attempts to contact current Minister of Police Bheki Cele’s spokesperson were unsuccessful at the time of writing.
During the webinar on Thursday, panellists noted how a lack of accountability in law enforcement agencies remained prevalent, with allegations of abuse defining the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown.
“While the families of the mineworkers continue to wait for justice, excessive use of force and brutality by the police persists. Poor leadership and weak levels of police accountability have contributed to a pervasive culture of impunity within the police,” said SERI in its statement.
Meanwhile, Nomsa Montsha, whose partner Collins Khosa allegedly died at the hands of SA National Defence Force members early in the lockdown, said: “We are still waiting for those who killed Collins to be arrested. We have no idea what is going on. I just hope we will get justice.” DM
"Numbers constitute the only universal language." ~ Nathanael West