Spectre of Marikana still looms large

Posted on August 17, 2017

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The bloody spectre of of the Marikana massacre continues to loom large over the politics of South Africa, for all the evident attempts to push it into the background. The fact that 18 miners are on trial for murder while police, who carried out a televised massacre remain free, adds strength to the spectre.

The 18 are charged with the deaths — apparently on the basis of the contentious common purpose doctrine — of two security guards and two policemen in the days leading up to the massive bloodshed on August 16. One of the accused was crippled for life by police bullets when 17 miners lost their lives before television cameras on the open ground beside the koppie they had been ordered to leave. Another 17 died after they had been apparently hunted down as they fled the scene into rocks and bushes in the opposite direction.

The fact that four mortuary vans were ordered to the scene hours before the shooting began was, as advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza has pointed out, a frightening indictment of intent. And that the bloodshed of that day could be hailed publicly by then police commissioner Riah Phiyega as an example of “the best of policing”, is unlikely to be forgotten.

Nor will it be forgotten — certainly among many miners and other trade unionists — what role deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa played in the unfolding tragedy. His belated explanation and apology for the emails sent encouraging harsh action have, to a large extent, fallen on deaf ears.

And the fact that Ramaphosa is backed by Cosatu and its affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to be the future president of the country is much more a sign of opportunism than of any forgiveness. In any event, the role played by the NUM, which, in many ways, can be seen to have precipitated the crisis that led to the conflict at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, places the union in a very invidious position.

For the NUM, Marikana was a disaster and heralded a rapid decline in membership of what had been the largest union in the land. The main beneficiary was the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) that began as an earlier breakaway from the NUM. Amcu, headed by former NUM branch chairman and Salvation Army bandsman, Joseph Matunjwa, is now the largest affiliate of the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu).

The support for Ramaphosa to succeed President Jacob Zuma, especially within unions affiliated to Cosatu is also largely a matter of what has been referred to as the ABZ (Anyone But Zuma) sentiment. Here too, the spectre of Marikana looms large as the fifth anniversary of the massacre was marked yesterday. And it has — like the anti-apartheid protests of the past — developed an international element.

At 1pm yesterday, outside Connaught House, headquarters of mining company Lonmin, a picket was called. Another was staged later in the afternoon outside South Africa House on the eastern side of Trafalgar Square. From 1986, for nearly four years, this was the scene of perhaps the world’s longest 24-hour protest.

A series of screenings of the award winning documentary, Miners Shot Down is also being staged throughout this month, both in South Africa and abroad. And the calls for justice, not only for the families of the dead and the injured of Marikana but for mining communities generally will only grow louder.

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