Rustenburg - Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa felt as if he were a laughing stock for pleading with striking workers at Marikana, the Farlam Commission heard on Wednesday.
“For me it was to quell the situation... but at the end of the day I was a laughing stock for kneeling before those workers,” Mathunjwa said.
He addressed workers gathered at a hill near Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, North West, on August 16, after being refused a police escort, he said.
He implicitly asked them to leave the hill in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed.
By then, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, had already been killed in violence related to the strike at the mine.
Later that day, 34 miners were killed and 78 were wounded when police opened fire on them while trying to disperse the group on the hill.
The commission's chairman, retired judge Ian Farlam, commended Mathunjwa for trying to intervene.
“I hope you didn't really get the impression that you were a laughing stock,” he said.
“You made a genuine, sincere effort to persuade people to avoid a massacre.
“It will be to your eternal credit,” Farlam said.
Tim Bruinders, representing Amcu at the commission, asked Mathunjwa why he had not explicitly asked protesters to disarm and return to work.
He replied that Lonmin management had reneged on a prior commitment to engage with the workers, and that he was responsible for communicating this to the workers.
He wanted to “give them hope that their problems could be resolved another way”.
“I was one foot behind... I had not much thin ground I could stand on.”
As the mine was not an Amcu constituency, he said he could not predict how workers would respond if he explicitly told them to lay down their weapons and return to work. - Sapa