Mine workers symbolising SA’s tragic day: ‘We’ll fight another 10 years to taste justice’

Mine workers symbolising SA’s tragic day: ‘We’ll fight another 10 years to taste justice’
Miners walking alongside an nyala that was pulling barbed wire, seconds before the shooting took place outside Nkaneng informal settlement near the Lonmin mine in Rustenburg, North West, on 16 August 2012. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Victims are still fighting for justice a decade after Marikana and have vowed to continue trying to hold President Cyril Ramaphosa and others accountable for the massacre as so much, but so little, seems to have changed.

Marikana has never curbed President Ramaphosa’s political ambitions, but he’s never been able to escape the fallout from that tragic day either. 

The President said he welcomed a recent judgment in the Johannesburg High Court that found striking mine workers who were injured and arrested during the massacre have no basis on which to sue him for allegedly pushing the police to commit murder — but that’s not all the court said.

The mine workers’ attorney, Andries Nkome, said the judgment — in a type of pre-hearing for compensation claims against the President and mining company Sibanye-Stillwater — was the first time an official institution acknowledged that Ramaphosa “was the mastermind of a toxic collusion between Lonmin and the SAPS, and that caused the arrests and murders”.

Ten years after Marikana, Ramaphosa remains the ultimate symbol of the state’s disdain towards the victims and their families. 

No one has been criminally charged for the massacre and the socioeconomic conditions that led to the violence have been perpetuated, sparking further protests and bloody crackdowns across the country.

Marikana might have changed little, but everything changed after Marikana.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

Guaranteed casualties

“The pain is still as vivid as it was 10 years back, and as such the willingness to fight for justice is unwavering,” said Nkome. 

“Despite the fact that criminal charges were laid against Ramaphosa 10 years ago, nothing has thus far been done.”

The recent court ruling dismissed the injured and arrested mine workers’ claims that Ramaphosa could be held liable for having murderous intent in Marikana, or for colluding with the government and the SAPS. The court found the injured and arrested mine workers suing Ramaphosa and Sibanye for an apology and R1-billion can continue with their claim that Ramaphosa’s interventions led to the massacre.

The Marikana strike was organised by worker committees demanding a living wage of R12,500 from Lonmin, now owned by Sibanye. The company refused to negotiate and six mine workers, two SAPS members and two security guards were killed before 16 August 2012.

Ramaphosa was a non-executive director at the platinum producer after his company Shanduka Resources took a $304-million loan from Lonmin to buy into the mining company’s empowerment vehicle. In the days leading up to the massacre, he put pressure on then police minister Nathi Mthethwa and mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu to treat the strike as a criminal issue rather than a labour dispute.

In a conversation before the massacre, former North West police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo and then Lonmin executive Barnard Mokoena suggested they were under political pressure to end the strike and force the mine workers to surrender.

SAPS management, including former commissioner Riah Phiyega, met on 15 August 2012 and decided to disperse, disarm and arrest the mine workers the next day. The date was arbitrary, the plan flawed and casualties almost certainly guaranteed.

On the afternoon of the 16th, police unspooled barbed wire to cordon off the koppie where the mine workers had gathered. They corralled one group into a line of Tactical Response Team officers who then shot and killed 17 people. Another 17 were killed as police hounded fleeing strikers, with evidence showing they were shot in cold blood before weapons were planted on their bodies. After the massacre, Phiyega praised the action as “the best possible policing”.

Responding to the July 2022 court ruling, the Presidency said, “Disturbingly, is the ongoing politicisation of this tragedy leading to the unfair targeting and isolated allocation of responsibility to the President. Others have sought to create a false impression that President Ramaphosa bears liability for the killings.”

Police firing live ammunition and tear gas on mine workers in August 2012. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Justice delayed

The Farlam Commission exonerated Ramaphosa and proving criminal charges against him might stretch the limits of both the law and the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) capabilities.

The NPA has charged a handful of SAPS members, including former North West deputy commissioner William Mpembe, for causing five deaths on 13 August 2012, but no one has been charged for the 34 deaths on 16 August.

In his report from the Marikana Commission, Judge Ian Farlam said the NPA and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) should investigate the shooters for attempted murder. 

In March 2017, Ipid handed 72 dockets over to the NPA for prosecution. Five years later, only the cases from 13 August have been prosecuted. Neither Ipid nor the NPA responded to requests for comment. The NPA has previously said it lacked the resources to complete its investigations.

The SAPS closed ranks after the massacre and hid evidence from the Marikana Commission. It later exonerated its members in disciplinary hearings. Phiyega was suspended on full pay while an inquiry investigated her for lying to the Marikana Commission, before she retired without a pension.

ANC leaders who played a role as ministers during the massacre faced no consequences. Nathi Mthethwa is still a minister in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet while Shabangu served as social development minister under the President until May 2019. No one from Lonmin has been prosecuted.

Asenati Tukela, an attorney from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, which represents 36 families of those killed at Marikana, said, “Sadly, the feeling of the families hasn’t changed as no justice has been seen to be administered in relation to Marikana.

“Ten years later, the families still decry the lack of justice, acknowledgement and compensation for the pain, trauma and loss of life that happened as a result of Marikana.

“To this end, there [have] been no criminal prosecutions in relation to events of the 16th of August 2012, causing lack of confidence on the justice system and indicating that there is no intention to bring anyone to book for Marikana.”

The families and injured and arrested workers have been more effective in their struggle for compensation, going to court to force the government to negotiate. The state has paid more than R70-million to the families of those killed. The families are headed back to court to demand compensation for constitutional and general damages. 

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More than R102-million has been paid to 287 workers who were unlawfully arrested and maliciously prosecuted. Negotiations with the injured strikers are currently being finalised.

A panel of policing experts was formed out of the Marikana Commission, but its recommendations appear to have been ignored.

“Not enough has been done within government and the SAPS to prevent another incident like Marikana occurring. Events like the policing of Covid lockdowns and the July 2021 looting in KZN and Gauteng suggest few lessons have been learnt,” said Tukela.

Hope and despair

Ahead of the 10th anniversary commemoration, Sibanye emphasised efforts to promote “healing and hope” between the company, workers and the Marikana community. 

Dozens of family members stepped into their dead relatives’ shoes at Lonmin after the massacre, as is the practice in the mining industry, and Sibanye continues to support an education fund for relatives of the victims, spending R64.5-million on 139 beneficiaries to date. The company has promised to further assist widows with houses, build a Marikana memorial park and improve water provision in the settlement.

Luke Sinwell, an associate professor at the University of Johannesburg who co-authored The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa, noted that Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman personally took home R300-million in 2021.

Sinwell said “any process of restoration within and beyond the borders of Marikana must begin by acknowledging the social forces that gave rise to the killing of 34 mineworkers”.

“Sibanye and the ANC government continue to perpetuate the very conditions that gave rise to Marikana. While mine workers have witnessed major salary improvements as a result of the strikes in 2012 and 2014, savage inequality remains. South Africa is presently the most unequal country in the world, as 20% of households own 80% of the wealth.”

Sinwell continued: “Any attempt to improve the quality of life under the existing system, which is designed to extract from people and nature and profit — the system that gave rise to Marikana — is at best piecemeal and at worst a slap in the face of the miners.

“The government and Lonmin, which has essentially become Sibanye, should indeed apologise, but as long as they continue on the path of racial capitalism, they will remain the enemy of Marikana. 

“They can partner momentarily, build a few houses, bring one or two schools, even education to fund the children of the deceased, but their interests remain in conflict with the vast majority of people in South Africa and abroad.”

According to recent reports, the Marikana community still experiences high levels of unemployment and crime, and lacks basic services. Sinwell noted that Sibanye has reliable access to electricity, which many of its workers and the community lack — a juxtaposition that extends to cities like Johannesburg where townships experience far more frequent power cuts than wealthy suburbs. 

There have been frequent assassinations of union leaders and activists in Marikana in recent years, suggesting little has come from efforts to restore peace or reduce union rivalry.

Sibanye’s Froneman has acknowledged the ongoing volatility across the country, but blames the government. He recently told Miningmx that the country is “sitting on a time bomb of social unrest and after the [July] riots of last year, they’re just a sign of what’s coming”. He has previously said the country is moving towards becoming a failed state.

Striking Lonmin mine workers at Marikana

Striking Lonmin mine workers listen to former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema at Wonderkop informal settlement in Marikana near Rustenburg, South Africa, 18 August 2012. (Photo: EPA / STR)

Continuing the struggle

The massacre at Marikana fomented nascent social and political movements, but stands as an event in a timeline of rupture rather than a turning point. It smashed any remnants of the “Rainbow Nation” or the “miracle” transition and reinforced the idea that the democratic country remains in the apartheid mould.

Marikana contributed to the rise of the EFF and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), both of which have failed to live up to their promised ideals, as well as a host of leftist alternatives, and symbolised the growing anger and protests over inequality, lack of education, job opportunities and services that have become the reality for most South Africans.

“The Marikana massacre was a violent symptom of racial capitalism which created the idea of racial inferiority so that black people can be exploited, even killed, without anyone being held responsible,” said Sinwell.

“The massacre renewed an anti-capitalist discourse which suggests that the people must be put before profit. ‘Workers’ need before bosses’ greed’ was one of the mottos.”

Shaeera Kalla, a Wits SRC leader during #FeesMustFall, wrote recently in Africa Is a Country that the Marikana miners’ struggle inspired her generation, and that “the miners educated us university students and young activists just as much as, if not more than, any professor or class could. They taught us struggle, hope and unflinching courage”.

Sinwell said there’s a risk of Marikana being “completely blood-washed” by the time the 20-year commemoration comes around.

“Marikana should be on our tongues in our everyday conversations, not an afterthought to remember one day a year.”

He believes those responsible must be criminally prosecuted; that Marikana should become part of the compulsory school curriculum; that the police must be demilitarised and that a heritage site — acknowledging that Ramaphosa called the strikers “dastardly criminals” — should be built.

In a scandal fuelled by the upcoming ANC elective conference, the President is currently under fire for what’s been dubbed “Farmgate”, after a reported $600,000 in cash was stolen — and not officially reported to police — from his Phala Phala property. Ramaphosa’s previous financial interest in Lonmin, and his alleged role in the lead-up to Marikana, have, in comparison, largely been forgotten.

There are perpetrators in Marikana who issued orders and pulled triggers and who must be held accountable, but Ramaphosa’s history as a former union leader, ANC veteran and Lonmin shareholder — who went on to become President after being linked to the most brutal massacre in post-apartheid history — makes him a glaring symbol of the betrayal of the Marikana mine workers and a failure of accountability in the democratic era.

“He was never charged. Instead, he even went on to become a president. Be this as it may, our clients are willing to wait another 10 years to finally taste justice,” said Nkome. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Stuart Hulley-Miller says:

    Until the Mariana issue is honestly interrogated by unbiased investigators, there will never be any form of resolution. This applies not only to the 34 miners killed by the police but the other murders committed in the run up to the incident, of people from trade unions, security services and commerce. The entire incident was conflict between two trade unions who used (justly or unjustly) the R12,500.00 for their own party/political/union membership reasons.
    The is a mountain of fact waiting for some honest organisation to collate.

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