Johannesburg - Bishop Jo Seoka believes the Marikana killings could have been avoided if the police and Lonmin management had allowed him to go back to the koppie where the workers had gathered.
The Anglican bishop of Pretoria, who was part of the religious leaders who mediated talks between strikers and mine management, believes the 34 miners would not have been killed if Lonmin had used the chance to address the striking workers when they asked for it.
The mediation led to an agreement that ended the violent strike.
Seoka told the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana killings on Wednesday that he had been to the koppie just a few hours before the 34 miners were shot dead by police on August 16.
Testifying on behalf of the victims, Seoka said he had met strike leaders at the koppie a few hours before the shooting.
He said they had sent him to ask Lonmin bosses to come and address them about their R12 500 salary demand.
Seoka said he had met one of the leaders, Mgcineni Noki, who came to be known as “The man in the green blanket”. Noki was shot dead that day.
Seoka said he was still haunted by the voice of a caller on his cellphone after he had left Marikana that fateful day.
The voice on the phone said: “Bishop, where are you? We’re being killed by the police!”
Seoka said: “This was sufficient to keep me awake for several nights.
“I could hear [on the phone] some shooting going on, [the sound of] helicopters and people screaming,” Seoka said.
He said the call, which lasted a few seconds, died before he could respond, and there was no answer when he called back.
Seoka suspects that Noki was the caller.
“I felt very guilty. I had promised to do an assignment and get back, but I didn’t.”
Seoka said that during the weekend after the killings, he felt he owed Noki some answers.
“I felt the need to go back… but I was advised that it was dangerous [for me to drive into Marikana].”
At the hearings on Wednesday, Lonmin’s lawyer, advocate Schalk Burger, took Seoka to task.
If Seoka had received a call after 4pm, as he had testified, it was impossible that Noki had been the caller, as “the man in the green blanket” had been killed at 3.50pm.
Seoka said he had assumed that the caller had been Noki because he had been the one who had asked him to ask Lonmin management to talk to the strikers.
Seoka said he had also given him his contact numbers.
Seoka later defended Noki as “one of the peaceful people in the group”.
He said he “never showed any hostility towards us and [was] always willing to listen”.
Burger had put it to him that Noki had told the police before the shooting that “today we’re going to kill each other” and that “let’s sign papers so that the world can seen how we killed each other”.
Seoka said he could not go back to the koppie because it had been cordoned off and declared a security area.
He said Lonmin’s executive manager for human capital, Abey Kgotle, had told the delegation earlier that management would not address the strikers.
“Kgotle said they will not see these people because they were criminals and murderers who have killed [some of the mine’s security officers],” Seoka said.
He said Lonmin’s vice-president, human capital and external affairs, Barnard Mokwena, had offered to take him to the joint operation centre to meet North West police commissioner Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo.
They passed on the strikers’ request to her.
“[Mbombo] said to us: ‘You may negotiate what you want, but security is non-negotiable’.”
She excused herself, and that was the last they saw of her.
“Suddenly, the place was busy, a helicopter landed and all the movement made us uncomfortable.”
Before they had left, Mokwena had told them that Lonmin was willing to address its striking employees provided they surrendered their weapons, elected representatives and left the koppie.
But then the violence took over.