“Our children still play in dusty roads, we do not have water and electricity,” laments Primrose Sonti, chairperson of community organization Women of Marikana, at the #SikhalaSonke activism event the organisation held in Marikana on Tuesday.
Two years since the Marikana massacre, the people of Marikana are still fighting for better living conditions. The same cause that inspired Lonmin’s platinum miners into strike action two years ago.
In 2012, South Africa was hit by what is widely regarded as the worst event in SA history since the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. Nearly 3000 platinum miners went on a wildcat strike at a platinum mine run by Lonmin in a small rural area called Marikana near Rustenburg, North West province. The miners – who suspected that their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was in collusion with their bosses, demanded a R12 500 wage increase. The strike began on the 10th of August and lasted until the 20th of September 2012, leaving 44 people dead.
On August 16, the South African Police Service opened fire on the miners during the on-going strike, killing 34 of them. This was in addition to more deaths that occcurred between 10 and 13 August when 10 people, including 2 police officers and 2 private security guards, were killed. In the months that followed, cases violence and intimidation conmtinued, giving rise to an increased sense of political awareness and activism from community members in Marikana.
On 12 August 2014, my colleagues and I took to Marikana to attend an activism event called Sikhala Sonke (We cry Together) hosted by the women-led community organisation Women of Marikana (WOM). Sikhala Sonke means “we cry together” and WOM is a collective of women supported by various NGOs in support of the widows of Marikana; many of whom were left without their bread-winner husbands.
Before we went to Marikana on Tuesday, all I knew about the Marikana strike was what the media had fed me. I had no idea what I was in for.
When we got to the Sikhala Sonke activism event we were taken on a site inspection of a neighborhood that is part of Marikana which sits right next to the Lonmin mines called Nkaneng. What I saw in the community was shocking. It was disconcerting to see people in a community right next to such a lucrative business living in extreme poverty and lacking the means to provide for themselves.
Lonmin is a producer of platinum which is listed on the London Stock Exchange. In 2013, this company brought in a total revenue of US$1.5 billion, with an operating income of US$164 million dollars and a net income of US$198 million.
This is the same company which in 2012, according to the mine’s annual reports, showed that it’s CEO, Ian Farmer earned a whopping R1.2 million a month in 2011. According to a City Press article published in August 2012, the top three executives at Lonmin each earned the same in 2011 as the combined salary packages of more than 3 600 rock-drill operators. The top three executives of Lonmin took away a combined salary package of R38 million in 2011.
This is the very same company that hires people from surrounding communities – like Nkaneng – in dire poverty. It operates at the heart of areas filled with shacks and dusty streets filled with little children roam the streets because they don’t have creches to go to. Instead of going to creche the children play on the streets running the risk of getting electrocuted by the cables which cross the streets because of illegal connections.This is an area where residents stand on top of their beds when it rains because the shacks get flooded with water. Where you are afraid of going into a toilet because you might fall into a pit.
Although the platinum strike is over, we still have a situation where voting, tax-paying citizens drink contaminated water. Two years after the massacre, the people of Nkaneng are still afraid to walk their own streets at night because there are no lights. When it rains, the people cannot move around because it gets flooded, the gravel roads ruined by the trucks from the mines consume all the water, making it impossible for walking.
Walking on the streets of Nkaneng, you can easily see the anger on some people’s faces. Who wouldn’t be, when it takes 44 people’s deaths to get government to act? Some scarce infrastructure development we came across was the construction of a road which seems to have experiencing construction delays for months.
As if that wasn’t enough, on our return to the Sikhala Sonke tent after the site inspection of Nkaneng, the North West Province MEC of Social Development, Feny Gaolaolwe, shows up in a black Mercedes Benz with a retail price of over a million rand. It’s also worth mentioning that the MEC came to the event on behalf of North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, apparently because he had “other commitments” and coulnd’t honour the invitation. The MEC proceeded to do what politicians do best: she made promise after promise. “As the MEC for Social Development I am going to make sure that we bring social workers here to do the house providing so that we can identify things that need to be done here.”
It’s been two years since the miners were gunned down yet we are still talking about “identifying” what needs to be done? The MEC did not even know the name of the area before she started her speech. What has she and her team been up to all this time? Can we really call a government that lets voters drink contaminated water a government of the people?
Saturday 16 August will mark two years since the massacre in Marikana and not even one police officer has been charged nor arrested. Instead we have a commission of inquiry that is dragging on for months. On Monday, 11 August 2014, South Africa’s Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa was called to testify at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry in Centurion. Ramaphosa was a non-executive director and shareholder of Lonmin when the massacre occurred.
It is alleged that Ramaphosa was one of the people who pressured the police to end the strike with force, leading to deaths of 34 miners on 16 August 2012. When told by AMCU representative Heidi Barnes that he should have intervened and initiated negotiations with striking mineworkers he said, “We got reports from where everything was happening. Our representative, Ms Ncube, was dealing with the matter. I did not have the information on an ongoing basis.”
Barnes then proceeded to ask Ramaphosa to explain why he spent energy on lobbying to have the violence characterised as criminal and to increase police presence and not take a step to to find out what was going on with regards to the wage dispute. Ramaphosa replied, “I was being given information of people dying and being killed.That is what I responded to, immediately. The stabilisation, in my view, would lead to negotiations to bring the solution.” On day two of Cyril Ramaphosa’s testimony, Advocate Dali Mpofu said Ramaphosa should be charged with murder. Mpofu argued that Ramaphosa and Lonmin did not want to engage with the miners because it might hurt them financially.
With regards to the sequence of events that led to the Marikana massacre, Mpofu argued that at the top of the chain is Ramaphosa’s pressure. Ramaphosa disagreed with this and stuck to his stance that he intervened and contacted the relevant ministers, the NUM, the Chamber of Mines and talked to Lonmin to prevent more deaths and stabilise the situation so that negotiations might begin. The Marikana Commision of Inquiry, chaired by former Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Farlm, continues.
Today marks two years since the Marikana massacre. This day, also, signifies a truly dark moment for post-apartheid South African society that must force us into retrospective and introspective contention with SA’s gross human rights shortcomings and failings, particularly with economic inequality and racial transformation as the preeminent backdrop.
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