Justice delayed is justice denied: 11 years since the Marikana Massacre and still no closure
Eleven years later, the Marikana Massacre remains the most lethal use of force by the South African Police Service in post-1994 South Africa. Forty-four people died, dozens more were injured and more than 250 people were arrested.
Ma’Nomandiya Joyce Jokanisi, the mother of Semi Jokanisi, was laid to rest on 2 January 2021 without knowing who killed her son or even why he was killed. Semi Jokanisi was shot dead on 13 August 2012 in a clash between police and striking mineworkers.
Since 2021, six officers have been on trial for what transpired on that tragic day. They include former North West deputy police commissioner Major General William Mpembe – the only person charged with the murder of Semi Jokanisi – for ordering police to open fire on the mineworkers.
Like Ma’Nomandiya Jokanisi, other parents, widows, children and siblings who lost their loved ones at Marikana remain without closure.
Eleven years later, the massacre remains the most lethal use of force by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in post-1994 South Africa. Forty-four people were killed, dozens more were injured and more than 250 people were arrested.
Mineworkers at Lonmin (now Sibanye-Stillwater) had engaged in a protest demanding a minimum wage of R12,500 per month, as well as better living and working conditions. As the protests continued and Lonmin’s management refused to negotiate, tensions escalated, resulting in the gunning down of protesters.
The police acted at the behest of Lonmin’s management – President Cyril Ramaphosa was a Lonmin shareholder at the time. Police were accountable to the then Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, and the then Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu.
From the start of the strike, mineworkers repeatedly called for an opportunity to engage directly with their employers about their labour and wage grievances. Lonmin repeatedly refused.
On 16 August 2023, South Africa commemorates the 11th anniversary of the Marikana Massacre.
The relationship between black mineworkers and the state has long been characterised by exploitation and complexity, echoing the patterns set during the colonial and apartheid eras.
The mining sector’s regulatory framework has often favoured mine owners, with mineworkers, predominantly black, enduring gruelling hours, meagre wages and poor living conditions.
In Marikana, mineworkers lived in single-sex hostels or an informal settlement with no water, electricity or sewerage connections. Lonmin’s 2006 Social and Labour Plan included promises to build 5,500 new houses for renting and for purchase, as well as water, electricity and sewerage connections for 4,800 stands where workers were already living.
By 2011, Lonmin had built just three houses. These were some of the conditions that contributed to the strike.
More than a decade later, accountability remains elusive.
No one has been criminally convicted, nor have the families of the victims been fully compensated for the loss of their loved ones. The police and other officials involved have not accounted for their actions, despite the findings and recommendations of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry that sat for over two years and cost more than R150-million.
One finding was that police intentionally hid evidence from the commission and misled the public about the events of 16 August.
In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, the state constructed a narrative to absolve itself of any responsibility, and further criminalised the mineworkers.
An example of this was the police’s handling of the circumstances surrounding the death of mineworker, Motiso Sagalala. He was injured at scene two and later died. The SAPS falsely testified at the commission that he had died in hospital. However, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate found that Sagalala had died inside a police vehicle while at the detention centre.
Four police officers were charged with defeating the ends of justice and for allegedly concealing information on the circumstances surrounding Sagalala’s death. All were acquitted in 2021.
This was a devastating blow to the Sagalala family and discouraging for the other families still awaiting prosecutions for the deaths of their loved ones.
In August 2015, victims of the massacre, represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, launched their civil claims.
In addition to a demand for the state to apologise, the families’ claims include compensation for loss of support; future medical expenses incurred as a result of the death of their loved ones, and general damages for emotional shock and psychological trauma suffered immediately after the massacre and in the years that followed.
Additionally, they are also claiming constitutional damages for emotional suffering and grief and the loss of family life. Parental care for the children and spousal support for the widows is central to this claim.
While some of the claims for loss of support were settled and paid out between 2018 and 2019, the state is yet to make a satisfactory offer concerning the remaining portions of the claims.
Marikana remains a fresh wound in the lives of the victims and their families because they have yet to see justice in the form of criminal convictions, sufficient compensation for their loss and suffering, or an apology from the state – in particular, from President Ramaphosa for his role in the massacre.
Justice for these families has been delayed, and for Ma’Nomandiya Jokanisi and others who have since died, justice has been denied.
The continued lack of accountability and delayed justice on the part of the South African government renders hollow any statements by the state about the gravity of the massacre.
The government has failed to give this national human tragedy the necessary attention and priority it deserves to bring closure to the victims.
The continued delay is a denial of justice. DM
Matete Piet Masola is a research intern at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri). He holds BA (Law) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand.