Julius Malema snatched an opportunity and exploited the Marikana massacre by emerging as the only leader who could address the tense, angry and armed miners.
While President Jacob Zuma and other government leaders descended on Marikana under cover of darkness, Malema took advantage of the vacuum and opportunistically bounced back from political obscurity.
The expelled ANC Youth Leader travelled all the way from Polokwane and used the platform to reassure the miners and questioned Zuma’s leadership.
He even refused a police escort as he entered an arena of armed men.
The police initially feared for Malema’s safety as he was meeting miners in a large open field without any bodyguards.
Three police nyalas approached the crowd of hundreds of miners, but made a slight retreat once they realised they were not welcome. Malema then spoke to the police and assured them that he was not afraid.
Malema spent the day visiting the hospitals and a mine facility where several of the arrested miners were allegedly being held. “This is a disruptive government. When people ask you who is your president, you must say I don’t have a president,” he told the miners.
Malema’s visit was in sharp contrast to that of Zuma, who arrived from a SADC summit in Maputo late on Friday night.
However, by yesterday morning many community members were still expecting the president to arrive.
Malema tacitly incited miners from other areas to rise in solidarity.
“Zuma presided over the killings of people, he must step down… Zuma doesn’t care about the mineworkers, he came here last night and met with whites. He doesn’t know whether the mine workers are safe or not,” Malema said to a cheering crowd.
“The Minister of Police [Nathi Mthethwa] must step down because this massacre has been committed under his supervision. Even president Zuma should step down.
“They only come to you when it’s time for elections. Once you put that cross, they disappear,” said Malema.
“President Zuma said to the police they must use maximum force. He didn’t say they must act with restraint… He arrived here in the evening. He went to speak to the white people, not you. It’s not the white British who were killed. It was you,” said Malema
Zuma and Mthethwa refused to comment yesterday.
The miners, still armed with their pangas, knobkieries and spears, sat calmly on the field throughout Malema’s address.
He questioned the level of police training. “The police said there was one person with a gun. If they were well-trained, they were supposed to isolate that person and take him out instead of killing everyone,” Malema said.
“You don’t use R5 rifles when you attend to a protest… You can’t use automatic machine guns on a crowd. If you come with R5s you come with the intention to kill.”
He also slammed his nemesis, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa chaired the ANC disciplinary committee of appeals, which fired Malema from the party.
“The reason that workers were killed is because there is a highly connected person involved in that (Lonmin) mine. That person is Cyril Ramaphosa.”
Ramaphosa’s company, Shanduka Group, said it would contribute R2 million towards the funeral arrangements of the miners who died.
Malema also had harsh words for the National Union of Mineworkers, whose rivalry with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union had led to the deadly clashes.
“NUM is no longer a union. It is a company. From today you can call it NUM (Pty) Ltd. NUM has shares in the mines. That is why when the workers have problems NUM sells you out. NUM has proven it has no intention to defend workers, it has the intention of making money through investment companies.”
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said Malema was confusing NUM with On-Point Engineering, a company at the centre of corruption allegations in Limpopo in which Malema owns a stake.
“He (Malema) should conduct research and he will find that NUM does not have shares in any mining company,” Seshoka said.
The Marikana massacre is likely to spark more tensions when the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) meets in North West tomorrow, with some in the ruling party’s senior organ privately expressing Malema’s outrage at their government colleagues’ “mishandling” of the deadly mining crisis.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe refused to confirm if the massacre was on the NWC agenda.
But a member of the NWC anonymously told The Sunday Independent that “killing our own citizens cannot be justified. These miners were not terrorists, but (they are) our people”.
However, another senior NWC member supported Zuma’s decision to appoint a commission of inquiry into the deaths of 34 miners, but he said most senior leaders were clueless about the fatal riots.
"My take is that the appointment of the commission is the correct route. It is wise to, instead of pointing fingers, get the truth first and then deal with what went wrong,” the member said.
Another ruling party leader, who does not sit on the NWC, said he hoped that the ANC would “convene a special (national executive committee meeting”, the highest decision-making body between conferences.
“This is a cataclysmic crisis. We (ANC leaders) must be seen to be leading and not defending our government deployees. Where was Nathi,” said the leader who is also an NEC member.
Another NEC member said: “Where is the Labour Minister (Mildred Oliphant)? She has got a responsibility to this matter. They allowed (National Police Commissioner Riah) Phiyega to be the minister.
“It means the head of state did not know. Did Phiyega brief the minister? Did the minister brief the president? Where was that line of command? It was really pathetic,” he said.
The NEC member said the shooting had to do with the militarisation of the police. The NEC members could not be named due to communication rules in the ANC.
Mthethwa, who was in Limpopo on Friday morning, more than 18 hours after the massacre, only arrived at Marikana with Zuma in the evening.
Mthethwa’s spokesman Zweli Mnisi said: “We had a confirmed engagement in Musina, Limpopo where the minister was scheduled to meet with the provincial police management, particularly with commanders responsible for family violence, child protection and sexual offences.”
Meanwhile, Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj said the presidency had started working “on the terms of reference for the commission”.
“He (Zuma) wants the truth of what happened and who was behind it. How does industrial action develop in such a tragedy?”
The presidency said the terms of reference would also include an investigation into the role of the police in the massacre.
The role of trade unions and Lonmin would also be probed.
About 250 mineworkers are expected to appear in the Rustenburg Magistrate’s court on charges that range from public violence, murder and attempted murder to malicious damage to property. - Sunday Independent