Rustenburg - To his supporters and followers Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is a hero, but he regards himself as a failure.
“I am not a hero. I am a failure. I failed to save the lives of 34 mineworkers. I failed to convince them to leave the koppie,” Mathunjwa told about 12 000 people at Nkaneng informal settlement in Wonderkop , Marikana.
They had gathered to mark the deaths of 34 mineworkers killed in a clash with police during a strike on August 16, 2012.
The surprised crowd had earlier praised him, calling him “hunger buster” and the “appointed son of God” to deliver them from poverty.
They lauded his ability to have negotiated a wage agreement that increased their salary by R1000.
The agreement was signed in June this year, after a new strike that lasted five months at Lonmin, Impala and Anglo American platinum mining companies near the North West town of Rustenburg.
Mathunjwa commands respect amongst his followers. When he arrives they all want to shake his hand, or take a cellphone picture. When he speaks, they listen attentively.
On Saturday Mathunjwa shared with them what he thinks of himself.
“I regard myself as a failure, not a hero,” he said.
Mathunjwa was once expelled from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and went on to form his own union, Amcu, which dethroned NUM as the dominant union along the platinum belt.
He told the crowd that August 16 2012 reminded him of how he had failed to pursued mineworkers to leave the koppie they had gathered on during a wildcat strike in 2012 where Lonmin mineworkers held out on their demand for an increase to R12,500 per month.
“I knelt as a symbol of respect. I pleaded with them to leave there,” he said, pointing about 500m away at the foot of the koppie.
“But they were defiant. They said they wanted management to come to them with answers to their demands.”
Ten people had already died in the preceding week Ä among them two policemen and two Lonmin security guards.
But not long after he spoke to them, 34 people were shot dead when police opened fire on them.
The Farlam Commission of Inquiry is currently piecing together the events of the days before the August 16, and on the day of the shootings, taking evidence from a range of witnesses from policemen to the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a non executive director of Lonmin at the time.
Mathunjwa said he could not sleep peacefully when he thought of the families of the dead mineworkers and what the future held for them.
His union donated R2 million to start a trust fund that would help widows and families of slain mineworkers, many of whom have said they are struggling to make ends meet.
He also pledged R12 500 to each widow. “This is the money your husbands and children died fighting for,” he said