File image - Advocate Dali Mpofu during the public hearing of the Marikana Commission of Enquiry to investigate the Marikana tragedy at which 34 people were killed and scores injured. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Rustenburg - The strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine was re-defined as a criminal act to allow for violence against the workers, the Farlam commission of inquiry heard on Wednesday.

This was the argument put forward by Dali Mpofu, acting for those injured and arrested during the violent strikes at the North West mine in August last year.

“We are going to argue... that these e-mails...constitute concerted pressure that was being put, among others, on the police and firstly on government to not call (the strike) labour-related, but a criminal action,” he said in the commission's hearings in Rustenburg, North West.

“And that was a platform from which it would be easier to inflict violence upon the strikers.”

Mpofu was referring to e-mails exchanged by Lonmin director Cyril Ramaphosa and other senior Lonmin managers on August 15, the day before 34 workers were killed at Marikana.

In one of them, Lonmin chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson described how, during a radio interview, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu described the unrest at Marikana as a wage dispute.

“Not sure who briefed her. We are waiting to talk to her, and although not too damaging, it's also not too helpful,” he wrote.

He wrote that the situation amounted to civil unrest which could not be resolved without political intervention, and needed to be stabilised by the police or army.

Ramaphosa responded he would talk to Shabangu.

“The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation,” he wrote.

Later Ramaphosa wrote back to inform them he had spoken to Shabangu in Cape Town.

“She agrees that what we are going through is not a labour dispute but a criminal act. She will correct her characterisation of what we are experiencing.”

He went on to say Shabangu would go to Cabinet, and brief President Jacob Zuma, and get Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to act.

Mpofu was questioning National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana on the e-mails and the change in the strike's characterisation in such a short period of time.

Mpofu argued that pressure exerted by these senior Lonmin managers helped change the conception of strike from a “labour dispute” to a “criminal act” within a few hours.

Zokwana disagreed. He said the fact that Shabangu changed her mind did not mean she bowed to pressure from Lonmin.

“They might know something we don't know here.”

Mpofu went on to say the change in characterisation made it easier for the police and army to be called in to deal with the strike.

Zokwana said he was not in a position to respond.

“Police and Lonmin were better placed to answer.”

The commission is investigating the 34 deaths on August 16, when 78 people were also wounded, and 10 deaths, including those of two policemen and two security guards, in the preceding week. - Sapa