Charges against miners raise questions

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br page2 Jo Seoka

Talking about the brutal killings of the striking miners at the Marikana mine raises all sorts of questions, but the truth is yet to be told by eyewitnesses. I am one such person who is willing and committed to tell my experience about the people concerned, many of whom are now dead.

In my previous article I wrote: “The massacre could have been avoided if Lonmin’s management had listened to the workers’ concerns.”

The same can be said that, if only the police had engaged in dialogue with the strikers before shooting, the blood of the miners that has watered the grounds of Lonmin could have been prevented.

It is propaganda to tell the story of Marikana focusing on the police report that only 10 plus 34 died in these callous killings of defenceless workers. There is more to it, such as the story of the mother of one of the miners who, on hearing the news of her son’s death asked, “What will happen to us?”, and then collapsed and later died in hospital.

The stories about the widows and orphans have not yet been told, but will have to be shared with the rest of the grieving nation. The death of the miners does not only affect the immediate families’ lives but the extended families and society.

The Marikana murder is a story of a failed democracy which, instead of protecting the rights of its citizens, takes away their lives.

In my opinion democracy means freedom to live one’s life, freedom to express one’s mind, freedom of movement and the right to decent work and a living wage. This is what the striking miners died for. This I know because I had the conviction to climb the mountain to be with the strikers and listen to their story. All I heard was the story of basic human rights.

These are men who are the working poor who wanted to talk about their socio-economic rights with their employer. They said to me: “Bishop just go and ask [Lonmin chief executive] Mr Ian Farmer to talk to us about our demand for a living wage.”

I did go to the Lonmin office only to be told firstly that Farmer was sick in hospital, and secondly that the company would not talk to criminals who had murdered people.

It is my belief that these men were peacefully waiting for their employer to come and discuss their plight with them. In fact, the man in the green blanket, Mr Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki, was the most peaceful person I have ever seen in an explosive situation. He spoke softly with the conviction of a seasoned leader. He did not kill anybody, but he was brutally murdered by the people who ought to have protected him. Therefore, charging these strikers with the murder of their colleagues was, and is, insensitive and scandalous.

As I was driving back from Marikana on that fateful day, the miners called me on my cellphone to tell me that they were being shot at and some had been killed by police. I could hear, amid screams, the sound of gunshots, not any rattling of sticks or pangas, but just gun fire. It just does not make sense that a policeman armed with a rifle can be threatened by a person with a fighting stick and panga.

Some argue that the strikers were occupying a public space and, therefore, were causing a threat to the public. But did the public call the police? No! They must have been called by the company to protect its assets even though nothing had been destroyed by the striking miners.

On the very night of the killings and the day after, some of the strikers were not only shot and killed, but run over by police cars while others were arrested. A medical pathologist’s report tells the nation that some of the miners were not only shot at short range, but in their backs and away from the koppie.

And while the nation and the world is still bemoaning the killings and on the eve of the burial of the majority of the deceased miners, the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) decided to charge the 270 arrested miners for murder of their own colleagues. How insensitive was that act by the NPA? What nonsense was this? If anybody had entered into the common purpose legal framework, it could only be the management. How could the workers, most of whom have no education, determine that people would be killed when they had no intention of fighting?

These men were asking for their right to life and did not anticipate the death of anyone. There are too many unanswered questions which will, hopefully, be addressed by Judge Ian Farlam’s commission.

As if the charges were not enough, the arrested men were paraded daily like circus animals as they climbed off the trucks to appear before the magistrate, chained like wild animals. No doubt the animal rights activists would have protested this cruel treatment if animals were treated in the same manner.

The size of the court rooms necessitated that only a few could go in to the courts and some are said to have been detained in police trucks. Surely, this is gross violation of the human right to dignity, just to mention one of the human rights.

Should the police be charged for this inhumane treatment? Yes. And where did the presiding magistrate think the rest were kept? He must have known there were 270 people destined to appear before him. This is a mockery of our democratic constitution!

In my opinion, the police officer who was in charge of the police at Marikana and gave orders “to shoot to kill” must be the one charged with murder, as well as the policemen who pulled the triggers that killed the striking miners.

Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo must tell the nation and the NPA who gave the orders for the police to shoot.

I applaud the Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe, for having called for an explanation of the charges that the NPA laid against the miners. If there is to be any charge, it could be for the death of the police and security persons, as nobody has a right to kill. Therefore, whoever has killed has committed a crime and must be arrested and tried for it. Surely, for a trained police force, there are alternatives to such brutal force. Opening of fire was not called for even as a last resort.

There are three things that must be done to address the confusion and anger still felt by the miners and the public, especially as the miners are slowly released this week:

n First, the real reasons behind why the NPA brought the murder charges against the striking miners must be revealed. I do not buy the “sound principle” explanation. That is not enough.

They should never have been arrested and wrongly charged with crimes they did not commit in the first place. In my opinion, the NPA has turned our judicial system into the “mampara” of the decade.

Withdrawing the charges provisionally does not set my mind at ease at all. And what about the rest of the charges? What about the reports that the detained miners were tortured and denied medical assistance? Will this be thoroughly investigated or swept under the carpet?

n Second, the legislature must scrap all apartheid laws, particularly those that were made to oppress black people. Such actions will strengthen our democratic constitution and the bill of rights and restore trust in the police services.

n And third, mining bosses must start learning to understand the workers and to treat them as important stakeholders and not just employees. A lot can be learnt from the German work ethic model of co-determination.

Rt Reverend Dr Jo Seoka is an Anglican bishop, the president of the SA Council of Churches and chairman of the Bench Marks Foundation.


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