As far as the eye could see miners were gathered on the notorious koppie in Marikana during the fifth anniversary of the massacre this week. Pictures: Jacques Naudé / ANA
Marikana Tragedy: “They are plainly dastardly criminals and must be characterised as such.” Cyril Ramaphosa

“In line with this there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.”

Will these words render a presidential candidate liable for mass murder charge? We must never forget the Marikana tragedy, for its varied and conflicting interpretations as shared in our public discourse. The events of that week of tragedy, 60 months ago, will always haunt our collective conscience, since this transpired as a labour strike going horribly wrong.

We are here five years later and also in the aftermath of the Farlam Commission’s findings and report. Marikana has, however, for some, become a political football, the 44 lives lost. Their families and loved ones must be finding the politics around Marikana despicable.

Marikana is also threatening to be a decisive factor of influence in this elective year for ANC high office. The primary reason for that is the presence of ANC and SA Deputy President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, who is directly linked to the tragedy. We heard last week that Ramaphosa requested to attend the memorial but, as communicated by the Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa, on behalf of the victims and families of the 34, he was not welcome.

Let us not forget Ramaphosa attempted to apologise for his role in the tragedy. While an apology is always welcomed as a sign of true reflection and remorse, the questions mounted as to why he waited so long. If this was not just another PR stint in an elective year where he is a serious contender, how far must this apology be stretched?Ramaphosa’s belated apology attempted to steer clear from directly admitting his role for he had navigate the sensitivity of potential legal ramifications extrapolated from that apology. The fact is the legal premise for interpreting the apology, as material evidence for a legitimate criminal case, is not too far-fetched.

The fundamental question therefore remains, is Ramaphosa legally complicit and therefore directly liable for the mass deaths of those who died in the saddest weak of a constitutional democracy? Is Ramaphosa to be charged and, if so, why? Ultimately the fundamental question is how this may influence Ramaphosa’s fitness to lead if Marikana is the barometer for assessment.

In order to answer the aforementioned questions we must revisit Ramaphosa’s role and attempt to understand why there are those who argue he is not fit to lead.

His direct role as a Lonmin director contacted by management to assist with the impasse as captured in the public records renders him complicit. We must appreciate the fact that at the time of the tragedy Ramaphosa was not the deputy president of South Africa, but a director of the Lonmin Board. We know his Shanduka Company was a shareholder in Lonmin. When the closing arguments of the Farlam Commission were entertained, the legal representative for those affected as injured and arrested, Advocate Dali Mpofu, argued that Ramaphosa must be made “accused number one”.

What, then, could be the advanced reasons for such logic?

It would appear a series of emails sent by Ramaphosa on the preceding day marked August 15, addressed to his fellow board members of Lonmin, becomes crucial if not the material evidence for a case. This is the direct link of Ramaphosa to the Marikana tragedy. From what Albert Jamieson as the chief commercial officer said, there was a need for government to appreciate that what was unfolding was a criminal episode and not a labour dispute.

Ramaphosa’s words, as captured in one of his responses to Jamieson during the day: “They are plainly dastardly criminals and must be characterised as such.”

He proceeded to advance “in line with this there needs to be concomitant action”.

Come August 16, 34 miners are gunned down by the police which now amplifies Ramaphosa’s role but even more his choice of words.

It then does not become sensational or beyond reason to ask how the words “ concomitant action” finds nesting grounds in this unfolding tragedy which some refer to as a massacre.

David Bruce, in his analysis on the Marikana tragedy, argues, “In the three days prior to the Wednesday on which the emails were written, 10 people had already been killed.

One cannot fault him for a concern with these killings. But Ramaphosa may be criticised for having adopted a simplistic approach to the overall conflict that demonised the strikers.”

I am in concert that we need not rush to find him guilty in a court of public opinion for his due concern. However, as Bruce raises the point, Ramaphosa as a seasoned labour leader and arbiter of conflict resolution could have approached this situation from the toolbox of that known and decorated history.

It is therefore precisely this known reality of who Ramaphosa is in history and presence of being raised in the cross examination which he conceded to that becomes the elephant in the room for directly linking and subsequently holding him directly responsible for the sad events of August 16 where 34 miners were killed at the hands of police officers.

The challenge is: why did Ramaphosa not encourage negotiations?

Bruce goes further: “In effect it is to argue that Ramaphosa should have realised that his pressure would probably be taken as giving a green light for a deployment of lethal force against the strikers.”

Thus “Ramaphosa’s principal culpability is therefore that he contributed to narrowing down the potential for a resolution of the conflict through dialogue. Rather than contributing to its de-escalation, his intervention materially contributed towards escalating the likelihood that the conflict would be resolved through violence”.

Since then we have had an apology from Ramaphosa.

Herein lies the challenge: precisely for what it means and second how it must be interpreted and understood. Does the apology mark the clearest sign of Ramaphosa’s culpable role; does it necessitate a legal case for culpability? Can anyone in the South African society lay a charge against Ramaphosa for his role in what some have dubbed a massacre?

In the bigger scheme of things, how will Ramaphosa, as contender for high office with the Marikana albatross, lead South Africa forward is the million-dollar question.

How does Marikana and Ramaphosa’s involvement impact, if not shape the presidential race in a season where regular claims of clouds hanging over the incumbent President Zuma are made?

Can the ANC afford a next president in Ramaphosa with potential murder charges hanging over his head?

Equally, can South Africa afford a president who is under threat of being charged by opposition or anyone in SA on Marikana?

* Motseki is chairperson of MK Inkuleleko Foundation

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent