With malice aforethought
23 September 2017 23:45 (South Africa)
Opinionista Rehad Desai

Marikana: A downward spiral

  • Rehad Desai
    rehad-desai.jpg
    Rehad Desai

    Rehad Desai is the author of Miners Shot Down, a film about the Marikana massacre. 

A covert war is raging in the mines of Rustenburg. A pattern is emerging where union officials from both sides are being targeted for revenge, along with others involved in the strike. Some of those murdered were due to testify at the Commission.

On Saturday 11 May Steve Khululekile, regional organiser for AMCU in Lonmin’s mines, was gunned down as he watched a football match in Billy’s Tavern in Photsaneng village near Rustenburg.

The killings began last year. The strike at Lonmin broke out on 10 August. The next day, a group of strikers, most of them NUM members, arrived at their local union office to demand the NUM represent them during their wage dispute. Guns appeared and two workers were shot and seriously wounded. Word spread that they were dead. This is where it all begins.

Dalivuyo Bongo was branch secretary of NUM at the time. Did he authorise the NUM officials to fire on the strikers, using guns that the union has admitted to handing out? We’ll never know, because in October Dalivuyo Bongo was shot dead before he gave his testimony to the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.

A pattern is emerging where union officials from both sides are being targeted for revenge, along with others involved in the strike. Some of those murdered were due to testify at the Commission.

Jojo, the sangoma from the Eastern Cape, was brutally assassinated two months ago before he got the chance to testify. The media and police claimed he was instrumental in providing leadership – in the form of muti – to the striking workers who were camped on the mountain. Who was behind the killing of Jojo, from all accounts a thoroughly professional and effective hit? While the police are not saying and the media is speculating, the Marikana community believes that it was the NUM, or the police.

Their suspicions are forged in the events on the day of the massacre. In the first, short burst of gunfire from the police three of the four strike leaders - including ‘Mambush’ Noki, the man in the green blanket – died. Were they targeted by the security forces? Certainly, they believed these men were the generals of the ‘Makaraba’, a vanguard of warriors intent on attacking the police on the 16th, according to police testimony at the Commission.

Since the massacre, the mass arrests that followed and the charges of murder against 270 miners under the Common Purpose doctrine (charges which have not been dropped as some believe, just suspended) seven miners have committed suicide. Four of them were Lonmin employees and the latest, Lungani Mubatyani who died last week, was due to appear before the commission as a witness.

The context of Lungani’s suicide reveals a telling picture of those miners who went through the dreadful events last August. They have received no assistance from the company or the state for their trauma. Instead, Lungani was recently fired by Lonmin and subpoenaed to appear before the commission. He was highly anxious and worried about debt. One might expect such lack of empathy from the company, but surely the state has a role to play in ensuring some healing takes place?

Steve Khululekile was the charismatic former NUM chairperson of Lonmin’s Karee branch. He was opposed to corruption in the union and was fired for his efforts. This led to an unprotected strike in 2011 and the dismissal of 9,000 workers at the Karee mine. Most were eventually re-employed but on their return to work they deserted the NUM and joined AMCU en masse. Steve, while attempting to get his job back through the CCMA process, was offered a job as AMCU organiser six months later.

His murder could have been revenge against the man who was pivotal to AMCU becoming the majority union at Lonmin. As a result, numerous union officials have lost their cushy jobs and generous perks. It’s a weakness for the NUM as these former officials are seething with anger about having to go back underground on paltry wage levels.

For those looking for scapegoats for their present personal and political woes, it’s easy to see why Steve might have been assassinated. That same Saturday that he was killed, Bele Thokalile Dlunga, another strike leader, told the journalist Greg Marinovich that assailants were waiting for him to return home.

Thousands have gathered at the mountain to mourn Steve’s death. People are angry, there is talk of strike action against the physical presence of NUM offices at the shaft level, and surely without a decisive intervention from the national leadership more could die.

The campaign to ‘Reclaim Rustenburg’, and more specifically ‘Reclaim Lonmin’ might sound legitimate. At the recent COSATU May Day rally in Rustenburg, the keynote address was delivered by Cyril Ramaphosa. He said that Rustenburg belongs to the NUM and they will never give up on Rustenburg and are destined to return. If he, as he claims, does support a competitive environment for trade unions, surely he needed to temper his rhetoric, and call for calm and cooperation. Instead there was more of the same fighting talk.

Tensions are so high that some worker leaders at Amplats believe that the retrenchments are nothing less than a NUM ploy to break AMCU’s majority.  And the insistence of Lonmin in renegotiating new terms for the recognition agreement and lowering the threshold for organisational rights is seen in the same light.

On one side, workers believe the platinum giants are conspiring with the ANC and NUM to hold back the militant fighting spirit of their new union.  On the other side NUM and Cosatu are claiming that the platinum houses are conspiring with AMCU to break the hold of NUM through a flawed membership verification process.

Whatever the reality, these perceptions are real and they need to be dealt with. My belief is that both unions have a role to play and this recent history has to be put aside if they are to advance the interests of all mineworkers. Hostility will only sow further divisions and play directly into the hands of mining capital.

The leadership of AMCU and NUM has a clear responsibility to calm the waters. One way would be to issue a joint statement condemning the killings, and all worker-on-worker violence. Organisational rights, or the loss of relatively lucrative full-time union positions paid for by the mining companies, can never be allowed to become a life and death issue.

As Gwede Manatashe has said to me in the past, ‘victories’ won through violence are pyrrhic and only produce short-term results; they are not sustainable. Likewise the old vanguardist doctrinaire rhetoric of the alliance leaders has to stop if NUM expects AMCU to accede to an end to the winner-takes-all-policy and the introduction of a more inclusive labour relations framework. The agenda of all miner workers has to be put before the turf wars between the union leaders.

The statement released by the AMCU leadership today is a step in the right direction. But we need more. If people are to hold out any hope that the violence will stop, both sides have to jointly condemn these killings. And the police have to prioritise their investigations into suspicious deaths and attacks, and show these killers will be apprehended. DM

Rehad Desai is the spokesperson of the Marikana Support Campaign. He writes in his personal capacity. He is a documentary filmmaker, currently making a film about the Marikana massacre.

  • Rehad Desai
    rehad-desai.jpg
    Rehad Desai

    Rehad Desai is the author of Miners Shot Down, a film about the Marikana massacre. 

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