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Without a soul noticing, President Jacob Zuma tried to gag the Marikana inquiry, says Bryan Rostron.
Pretoria - There was something very odd about our election: the results are in, the ruling party won handsomely, though with a smaller majority, there was an unexpectedly high voter turn-out and polling passed off smoothly. But had Sherlock Holmes been an election monitor, he might have pointed out that there was a dog that didn’t bark in the night.
Two years ago, police shot dead 34 miners. They were massacred in cold blood. The slaughter is incontestably visible on film. Altogether, 44 people died over several days of industrial unrest at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, but this mass killing of mine workers simply didn’t feature as an election issue.
Then, exactly one week before polling day, the chairman of the commission investigating the massacre announced that President Jacob Zuma had issued a proclamation which effectively prevents further probing of possible government complicity in the massacre, and still not a single dog barked, neither opposition politicians nor the press.
On Monday, after a flurry of telephone calls between the commission and the Ministry of Justice, commission chairman Ian Farlam said that ministers can still be called. We shall see. But why, during the last week of the election, wasn’t this apparent attempt to gag the commission a burning topic?
The proclamation, signed by Zuma, deletes paragraph 1.5 from the commission’s terms of reference. This clause required an investigation of “The role played by the Department of Mineral Resources or other government department or agency in relation to the incident and whether this was appropriate in the circumstances and consistent with their duties and obligations according to law.” The proclamation also required the commission to complete its work by July 31.
“There will be no justice for the Marikana miners,” bitterly remarked one lawyer who has been representing penniless widows of the slain miners. “Zuma prohibits evidence from his ministers and ends the commission prematurely. We thought Lonmin witnesses would be questioned for six to eight weeks, now we’ll be lucky to get six to eight days.”
In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, police charged 270 striking miners – many of whom were wounded by the police – with the murder of their slain comrades under the discredited apartheid-era doctrine of “common purpose”. Yet on the morning the decision was taken “to kill this thing” (in the words of the regional police commissioner), evidence has shown that 4 000 rounds of live ammunition were delivered to the police at Marikana and mortuary vans were summoned. It is all painfully and clearly laid out in Rehad Desai’s sombre documentary Miners Shot Down.
So where does ultimate responsibility for these murders rest? Evidence so far suggests a cabinet-level decision, however, with Zuma’s proclamation, that may now never be explored.
After the commission has unravelled a quagmire of police lies and cover-ups, a few lower-ranking policemen will probably be sacrificed, perhaps even the hapless police commissioner Riah Phiyega who has given clumsy and contradictory testimony..
The infamous e-mail from Cyril Ramaphosa to fellow Lonmin directors on the afternoon before the massacre states that he had a discussion with Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu, and she promised that she was, “going into cabinet and would brief the president as well as get the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa to act in a more pointed way.”
Under the terms of Zuma’s recent proclamation, it seems that neither Ministers Shabangu and Mthethwa nor Zuma will be called to account for what they knew and what instructions they issued.
Ramaphosa, interviewed for Miners Shot Down, declined to answer questions on the basis that he was likely to be called before the commission of inquiry. Already deputy president of the ANC, Ramaphosa is likely to become deputy president of the country due to its election victory. Under the proclamation, he would also probably be exempt from being questioned.
Why on earth has this been ignored by newspapers and opposition politicians? One answer is that the media is far more interested in the soap opera of Oscar Pistorius’s trial. But the other? The implausibly shocking thing for many South Africans – and for the miners themselves – is precisely what one of the strikers tells his companions as police ominously begin to encircle their rocky mound, “The people who are doing these things to us are people who look just like us.”
* Bryan Rostron is a freelance journalist and author.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.