By Tauhierah Salie
Today marks the day that 34 miners of the Lonmin Platinum mine were gunned down in the Marikana area, by police during a strike for higher pay, six years ago. The Ex Mine Workers Union, under the banner of unpaid benefits Campaign and in solidarity with the Right To Know Campaign, marched to parliament to hand over a memorandum of demands to Mineral resource Minister Gwede Mantashe. They are, among other things, demanding that government pay back the money owed to ex mine workers.
In days leading up to the massacre, miners initiated an intense week-long wildcat strike, in pursuit of a pay raise to R12,500 per month, which was triple their original salary. * A wildcat strike, or ‘unofficial industrial action’, is strike action undertaken by unionised workers without the union-leadership’s authorisation, support, or approval.* The strike occurred against a backdrop of antagonism and violence between the African National Congress-allied National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and its emerging rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
On 9 August 2012, about three thousand miners went on strike to demand a living wage. The first incidents of violence were reported the next day, when NUM leaders opened fire on striking NUM members who were marching to their offices for support, fatally wounding two miners. 3,000 workers walked off the job on the 10 of August, after Lonmin failed to meet with them. In response to the Lonmin strikers, there was a wave of wildcat strikes across the South African mining sector.
During the period from Sunday 12 August to Tuesday 14 August 2012, 10 people were killed including 6 mine workers, 2 Lonmin security guards and 2 SAPS members, in a clashes between strikers and SAPS members.
Despite having no legal protection or union support, thousands of miners continued to strike in solidarity for their common goal – a better quality life and the dignity it affords. The families of the striking miners were also in general solidarity with the protest and worked to support the movement as most of the strikers who were killed in Marikana were sole breadwinners —according to estimates by unions, each supporting at least 10 people.
On the afternoon of 16 August 2012, members of a contingent of the South African Police Service, from an elite special unit, opened fire with assault rifles (R5 rifles), on a group of strikers. Within minutes 34 miners were killed, and at least 78 were wounded. The incident was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians, since the Sharpeville massacre during the apartheid era. It also resulted in the arrest of 270 miners- who were initially charged with “public violence.” The charge was later changed to murder, despite the police having shot them. However, on 2 September 2012, the National Prosecuting Authority announced that they would drop the murder charges.
Addressing a press conference, SAPS authorities claimed its officers opened fire on the miners in self-defence, after the miners attempted to attack them using machetes, spears and clubs. The official number of people killed was confirmed by National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega, weeks after the incident.
Following the shootings, mine owners at Lonmin issued a statement expressing regret for the loss of life, stressing the responsibility of the police for security during the strike and separating the violence from the industrial dispute. Workers rejected the company ultimatum to return to work and vowed to go ahead with their protests till their demands for wage increases were met, as it would be an “insult” to the dead otherwise.
Miners’ families criticized the government’s failure to produce a list of the dead two days after the incident, leaving many to worry whether missing members of their families were among those killed, wounded, or arrested during the incident.
Solidarity protests and strikes continued across the country and miners reiterated their demands for increased pay, despite warnings of being fired. As of early October 2012, analysts estimated that approximately 75,000 miners were on strike from various gold and platinum mines and companies across South Africa, most of them illegally.
What is being done now
According to Business Live, the government offered families of the slain mine workers a R100m settlement for general damages last month. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute represents 320 claimants and have sued for loss of support and emotional shock.
The commission of inquiry into the massacre, which was chaired by Judge Ian Farlam, rejected the police’s explanation for the deaths at the now infamous “Scene 2” — the second location at which shootings took place on August 16, 2012 — where 17 of the 34 striking workers killed that day. The Farlam report was released by government in June 2015, but as yet, no full account has been provided of what actually happened at the second scene. The new report is based on photographs, witness statements and forensic evidence presented to the commission, working to reveal what happened at the second scene. The study aims to provide answers about how and why the 17 men were killed.
Independent researcher David Bruce — who is an expert on the massacre and policing in South Africa — compiled the report. Bruce said “there is no convincing or persuasive evidence of any deliberate attacks on police at Scene 2. If there had been such attacks, there should be no reason why the police could not present consistent evidence of this. These findings contradict police statements presented to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate a day after the massacre.” Bruce reveals a number of inconsistencies in these statements. The report surmises that the gunshots police believed were coming from striking workers, were likely “friendly fire” coming from other police teams approaching at different sides of the area. But, in a situation where police officers are unable to identify the source of gunfire, protocol requires that they take cover until they can. However, Bruce says “it is likely that the emotive dimension of strike action clouded the judgment of the officers. “
In his opening presentation at the release of the report, head of justice and violence prevention at ISS Gareth Newham said: “Since Marikana, the most shocking thing to take note of is the complete lack of accountability of any of the SAPS commanders and officials involved. He adds that if South Africa is to learn anything from Marikana and its aftermath, a clearly planned process of police reform is required.
Police Minister Bheki Cele says they are not far from honouring and completing the recommendations by the Farlam Commision of Inquiry. Cele says the recommendations made by a panel of experts will not be ignored but will be thoroughly implemented. He says The law will take its course over people who are responsible for the deaths of the miners”
In April, the National Union of Mineworkers submitted a list of demands for a two-year agreement, with entry-level pay of R10,500 a month.
In a meeting held last month, EWN reports AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa saying that R12,500 a month “can put the worker in a better place, especially considering higher taxes and petrol prices”. He added that what workers were paid “isn’t fair”. AMCU has called for an increase in benefits, including severance pay and transport allowances, and longer maternity leave. It also wants a five-day work week to replace the shift system. Mathunjwa cautioned that the union could change its demands at any time. The Minerals Council SA had received AMCU’s demands, spokeswoman Charmane Russell said. “No date has yet been set for the start of negotiations, but that is imminent,” she said.
March to Parliament
At the end of 2016, there remained an aggregate of more than R41,7 billion in unpaid pension and provident fund benefits owed to more than four million people. These funds are held by both financial service providers and employer/occupational entities, overseen by the statutory public regulator Financial Services Board (FSB).
Members of the Ex Mineworkers Union, their families, and the Right to know campaign, slowly marched from Keizersgracht street to Parliament today, to commemorate the deceased, saying the deaths would be in vain if the continuing exploitation of workers in the mines, the farms and other sectors of the economy, are not challenged.
Most of the protesters were senior citizens and said that not only are they marching for themselves and their families, but also for those currently employed by mines, 13000 of which are facing retrenchments at Implats. They handed over a memorandum which held the following demands :
- The payment of the money owed to ex-mine workers and other workers- whose money is kept by fund managers under the FSB. (These are benefits they believe should be paid and are due to them because their families are trapped in poverty)
- They want the government to facilitate a process of engagement where the affected workers are part of the process, particularly the Department of Mineral resources, who should play a leading role to facilitate the processes aimed at payment.
- Regulatory bodies tasked with ensuring compliance of financial institutions must get full government support so that they ensure that private financial institutions comply with policy
- The department should enforce existing and enact needed policies to ensure that benefits are paid directly to beneficiaries. Payments to middle men, and other third-party entities, should also be made illegal
- They want an enquiry, into the management of the money of workers who have died in the mines and those who did not receive their benefits, to be initiated. (They believe this is due to corruption and maladministration involving FSB, fund managers, lawyers and other agents)
Parliament is, however, in recess and the memorandum was handed over to the general secretary, who did not want to speak to the media, and who will hand it over to the relevant person.
Commemoration events took place all over the country today, with the DA and EFF also calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to make the 16 of August Marikana Memorial Day, a public holiday to be observed annually. Workers at Lonmin mine in Marikana held a commemoration event today, with Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) president Joseph Mathunjwa delivering the keynote address. Survivors of the massacre, as well as their families, also gave speeches. A night vigil was held at the location where the shooting happened last night.
On behalf of the civil society movements, Right2Know Communicator Busi Matabane said:
We live in a democratic country, under democratic laws that recognise our right to dignity and justice. As citizens of a free country, we are entitled to fair compensation for the labour we provide to make the country successful. The death of the workers in Marikana on this day in 2012 would be in vain if we do not challenge the continuing exploitation of workers in the mines, in the farms and in other sectors of the economy.”