Policemen keep watch over striking miners after they were shot outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 16, 2012. South African police opened fire against thousands of striking miners armed with machetes and sticks at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, leaving several bloodied corpses lying on the ground.

Dear President Jacob Zuma. As I write this letter, there are families who find themselves in mourning today following the tragic events of this past week at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in the North West Province.

In actual fact, Mr President, the whole of South Africa is in mourning. Ordinary South Africans have died. We hold our heads in shame at what has transpired.

We had just celebrated our swimmers and the athletes who did this country proud at the recent London Olympics but the memory of their glorious achievement has all of a sudden been snuffed out by a tragedy whose genesis has been all too apparent.

Mr President, I imagine that your heart is aching too over this tragedy. Any loss of life is something we all must condemn, and do our utmost best to prevent in the first place.

The events that have unfolded at the foothills of Wonderkop, a stony hilltop, not far from Lonmin’s mine, are a sad reminder of how far we still have to travel as a society to get to the promised land.

The year 1994 ushered in a promise of a better future for all South Africans, but with each passing day, as we have seen this past week, we seem to do our utmost best to undo even the little progress that we believe we are making.

Today, the whole world is wondering about the resiliency of the dream that has brought us this far. Ordinary South Africans are wondering too because ordinary South Africans have lost their lives.

The Marikana Massacre will forever be etched into our memories as a really bad day in our sad history.

Mr President, for the purposes of this letter, it will be counter-productive to dwell on how this tragedy could have been prevented. In the coming days there will be plenty of blame to pass around and recriminations. But Mr President, none of that will bring back our compatriots who died on that fateful Thursday.

The purpose of this open letter to you Mr President, is for me to give voice to what I know every other South African would want to express to you.

I take this opportunity to reach out to you and make a plea for courageous leadership, by you and by all those that you have entrusted with the responsibility of running the affairs of our beautiful country.

The sum total of this country is its people – loving, generous and kind. What we witnessed on Thursday, Mr President, is the abject failure of leadership – not only by Lonmin, but by the unions and our government.

It is in these sort of instances that the true mettle of any leader is put to the test. To answer the call to lead, no matter in what capacity, is to place yourself in a position to serve.

Today, close to 50 ordinary South Africans have lost their lives and many scores remain in hospital, merely because at a time when they sought to be served nobody seemed to answer the call.

Mr President, it would probably not be a bad idea if you were to summon Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu and the chief executives of all the mining houses and the respective unions to an open and frank dialogue about how to make the mining industry work for this country. At the basis of this tragedy that has unfolded in our land, is the growing desperation among the working poor and the unemployed.

In that meeting, hopefully, there can be a realisation by all the responsible parties that it’s no longer business as usual. Ordinary South Africans have died. We are very much in an abnormal state, and the Marikana Massacre proves that. It is really going to take extraordinary leadership to instil confidence in all of us, Mr President.

I know it may sound preposterous Mr President, but with so much bloodshed already and growing concerns that the Lonmin chaos might spill over into other sectors of our economy, it is probably worth considering the fact that jackboot tactics will not solve anything.

Instead, the mowing down of people as we saw on Thursday may just embolden the cause of those that see the growing tide of poverty in our midst as a needless perpetuation of the injustices of our past.

Mr President, for the sake of brevity, it probably suffices to say that as ordinary South Africans, we will be looking for decisive action from you and the government led by your party, or else all hope is gone.

In his book entitled The Devil and Miss Prym, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho says: “When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”


Ellis Mnyandu

Business Report Editor