Business Maverick

COMMEMORATION LECTURE

‘Stop feeding those miners’ – Imtiaz Sooliman recounts chilling phone calls during 2012 Marikana strike

‘Stop feeding those miners’ – Imtiaz Sooliman recounts chilling phone calls during 2012 Marikana strike
Mine workers gather on the 'Wondekop Hill' as part of the commemoration events marking the sixth anniversary of the Marikana mass shooting, in Rustenburg, South Africa, 16 August 2018. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STR)

Gift of the Givers’ founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, delivered the fourth annual keynote address on Monday to commemorate the Marikana Massacre 11 years ago. The Givers were distributing food parcels to the mine workers and their families during the strike when Sooliman said he got calls from people claiming to represent Luthuli House and Lonmin investors asking them to stop. The chilling message was that the strikers would surrender or starve.

The Gift of the Givers was doing their thing, selflessly providing food parcels during those dangerous August days in 2012 when a wildcat strike at platinum producer Lonmin’s Marikana mine was spiralling into violence. 

Imtiaz Sooliman, who gave the fourth annual keynote for the Marikana Commemoration Lecture – an initiative aimed at advancing the cause of healing and renewal launched by Sibanye-Stillwater in 2020 after it acquired the mining assets of the now defunct Lonmin – related two distressing phone calls that he received one day while the Givers were distributing food to the hungry in Marikana. 

“Disappointingly, on one of the days, we received two calls. One was from someone purporting to be from Luthuli House. The message to me was ‘please stop giving food parcels to the miners … that’s an instruction from the president. Once they’re hungry, they will stop the strike soon’,” Sooliman said. 

“I told the person, ‘the president has my number, I don’t understand him to be a person like that. He must call me directly to say those words himself to me … I will now double the number of food parcels to give to those poor people.” 

Why would the ANC want to bring the strikers to heel? Sooliman did not touch on this, but the strike was led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which was stridently anti-ANC and was dislodging the party’s ally, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), from the platinum belt. 

The next call was from someone who claimed to represent investors. 

“At some point in the day, I got (another) call from someone who says they’re part of the investors in Lonmin mining. The same message: ‘Stop feeding those miners and their families and with hunger soon the strike will stop’.”

The chilling message was that the mine workers would surrender or starve.   

“This is a huge disregard for human rights … It was terribly disappointing to see that kind of sentiment coming from well-heeled people who have nothing to lose and whose wives and children do not go through the hardships that those poor people at Marikana went through,” Sooliman said.

Still, from the ashes of despair, Sooliman delivered a message of hope. 

“… white miners were scared to go where the black miners were and we said ‘we treat everybody equally’. The white miners then got brave and, with their families, they got into the buses. We took them to the site of distribution. They were welcomed by the black miners. The black miners gave space and said ‘you can go first’. No racism. No friction. No anger. They were hungry together.

“While corporate members and investors were planning how to destroy the miners and bring them to their knees, miners were showing true humanity,” Sooliman said. 

The wildcat strike reached its bloody conclusion on 16 August 2012 when police shot dead 34 mine workers taking part in the stoppage. 

“It’s time not to live in the past, but reflect on it … Especially in the current year where we are trying to build a country and bring social cohesion. We are getting a lot of negative people saying failed state, collapsed grid, blackouts, social unrest, economic collapse… 

“You can’t build a country on negative sentiment. And a lot of the negativity came because of the effect of Covid. Mental health took a huge knock during Covid… people died in isolation,” Sooliman said. 

“We learn from Marikana, we learn from Covid, we learn from the unrest in KZN in 2021,” he added.

“How can 7.4 million people’s taxes look after 65 million people? It’s totally impossible … Since pre-94 we were responsible for that lack of education, lack of opportunity, no income, no jobs, no development … We have inherited that. We have a duty to reverse that. And the only way we can do that is with government, corporates, NGOs, the religious sector, and the country joining hands together.”

Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman – who has been bluntly critical of the government in the past – also picked up on the theme of working together. 

“Shared value is about the attainment of the best possible outcome from an economic, social and environmental perspective, for a broad range of stakeholders,” he said.

“… business cannot do this alone. A critical feature in the ability of any company to create shared value is the participation of a capable state that creates conditions for competitiveness in which business can flourish and play its part in promoting economic growth and social advancement. 

“I am encouraged by some positive signs lately from the Presidency that government is amenable to working with business to create a better-shared future.  

“The partnerships between business and government to work on electricity, transport and logistics, and crime and corruption, is being well received to address these critical issues,” said Froneman.

Business and government agreed in June to partner on work streams to target this trifecta of woes undermining South Africa’s economic potential. Crime and corruption alone cost the economy up to a staggering R1-trillion annually. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Business and government’s master plan to rid South Africa of its R1-trillion crime and corruption headache 

Marikana has many legacies, some of which the speakers did not directly touch on. 

Among other things, it triggered a drive to mechanisation which South Africa’s arduous geology allows, and along with Covid drove the final nails into the coffin of the migrant labour system that for decades provided the mining sector with a cheap supply of black labour that was ruthlessly exploited. 

The decline of the migrant labour system has unleashed tectonic social and economic forces that include the rise of the zama zamas, a surge in cattle rustling along the Lesotho border, and the rhino poaching crisis in Kruger National Park. These are legacy issues that are not easy to address. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: How the twilight of SA’s migrant labour system spawned a social apocalypse 

Still, the mining sector has made huge strides on the social front, especially in the decade since Marikana. 

Data compiled by Sibanye show that from 2013 to 2021, wages for entry-level workers at Marikana climbed just over 90%, while cumulative CPI was 45.7%. That represents real wage growth of 44.8% and the most recent pay hike – part of a five-year wage deal – means entry-level workers now earn a basic monthly wage of over R15,500 per month. With other benefits, the package is well over R20,000. 

The Marikana mine faced closure at one point, but Sibanye has saved thousands of jobs by developing a plan to keep it operational. Record platinum group metals prices a couple of years ago certainly helped. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Men in jeans build the country,men in suits destroy it to loan a quote. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    We need more real South Africans like Mr Sooliman,kudos to him

  • Phil Baker says:

    How does one donate to Gift of the Givers? Is there a donation portal? I think its about time now isn’t it?

  • Margaret Jensen says:

    Wow this is so inspiring. Thank you Imtiaz Sooliman, thank you Sibanye!!

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    The anc don’t practice socialism as their ideology professes…they are simply thuggish Stalinists…or in modern terms, Putinists!

    The anc and eff’s manic adherance to marxist cuban look-a-like communism has destroyed South Africans and will be the death knell of our economy and drive every citizen down to their depths of their depravity and penury for all…..ie, their lowest common denominator of failure.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The irony is if taxpayers were given the same advice to “let them surrender or stave” there would be nothing left for the politically connected to fight over and they would have no choice but to work together with and for all South Africans! Perhaps a tax revolt ( or a real threat of one) would force us to become a truly nonracial Democracy!

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    Someone should nominate Mr Suliman for the Noble Peace Prize. He is a true hero with an international footprint for for extending help to the poor and distressed.

  • William Stucke says:

    “The decline of the migrant labour system has unleashed tectonic social and economic forces that include the rise of the zama zamas, a surge in cattle rustling along the Lesotho border, and the rhino poaching crisis in Kruger National Park.”

    And you still characterise migrant labour as “a cheap supply of black labour that was ruthlessly exploited”, Ed? The reality is that these people are no longer employed by the mines and are no longer able to send money home to their families in Lesotho, Mozambique, eSwatini, Botswana, Zimbabawe and places further afield.

    Hence the rise in crime.

  • Manie Mulder says:

    I am a great admirer of Imtiaz Sooliman. He should surely rank high for the next Nobel Peace Prize. Who will nominate him?

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Great article on a really depressing topic. However, I don’t share Mr Foreman’s view that Ramaphosa and the ANC are showing some positive signs of cooperation. They have not done so for 30 years, and have no intention of doing so, for it will highlight how awful they are at managing the country. To the handful of brave business leaders and journalist who take on the disgraceful dictatorship state, I salute you, and I’d include Mr Froneman. But by far the majority of corporate CEOs, probably 95%, are cowardly collaborators just like those in a Europe during WW2. Some of them, like Stavros Nicolau, of Aspen Pharmacare, (who wrote a column here a few weeks ago,) even support the ANC… with their only motivation to line their own pockets. Selling their prostitute souls to the devil.

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