“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” wrote Milan Kundera, author of the celebrated novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being who died last month. The 11th anniversary of the Marikana massacre on August 16 will sadly probably receive less public attention than last year’s 10th commemoration, but there is arguably also the danger of its history being rewritten and its memory distorted. Sibanye Stillwater, the company that bought Lonmin, is inviting people to the 4th Annual Marikana Commemoration Lecture billed for August 14 in which Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the Gift of the Givers Foundation will be the keynote speaker.
Sibanye states that the aim of the lecture is to “reflect on the renewal process of honour, engage and create, and renew our commitment to invest in and sustain our operations, our people and our communities.” What comes to mind is the African proverb, “Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” How different is Sibanye from Lonmin, the company which called police to kill its workers instead of sitting down to negotiate wages with them? What is Sibanye doing to change and improve the working conditions and wages of the workers in the wake of the massacre? How much justice can workers expect from their new bosses?
Advocate Dali Mpofu, representing the community of murdered workers at the Farlam Commission, seminally accused Lonmin of “toxic collusion” with the police in the massacre of the striking workers. He implied that the Lonmin bosses were as much murderers as the police whose volley of bullets killed 17 strikers within 12 seconds in what became known as Scene 1 of the massacre. In Scene 2, on the koppie, another 17 strikers were shot dead in 11 minutes, some in execution style with their hands up in surrender.
Evidence considered by the Farlam Commission, part of it contained in a report by the Legal Resources Centre, documented meetings between police top brass and Lonmin executives during the strike including how the company provided police with accommodation, helicopters, buildings, food and detention cells for anyone arrested. These high-level discussions were kept secret even from the Farlam Commission but their results such as the requisitioning 4,000 rounds of live ammunition, four mortuary vans, and the setting of a “D-Day” to crush the strike were manifest on August 16.
In a report written by Dick Forslund of the Alternative Information and Development Centre titled “Lonmin, the Marikana Massacre and the Bermuda Connection”, evidence is presented of how Lonmin had enough money to meet the workers’ demand for R12 500 but instead chose to transfer vast sums of money out of the country to tax havens. After the massacre and apparently to hide the very big stain of blood on its accounts, Lonmin decided to sell to Sibanye at a bargain price that included hiding the true value of the company. Indeed, within three years of the deal Sibanye made R34.7 billion profits from Lonmin production, eight times its purchase price.
Lonmin can run but it can’t hide its complicity in the massacre. Indeed, “the capitalist bosses are thieves, liars and murderers” in that this company is taking forward its legacy of its past existence as Lornho whose notorious Tony Rowland led British Prime Minister Edward Heath to accuse it of being “the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism.” Jarringly, this sordid history became bizarre when, in 1996, President Nelson Mandela awarded Rowland the Order of Good Hope, the highest South African honour.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who still receives accolades for being late former president Nelson Mandela’s brilliant negotiator in the transition from apartheid to democracy, perhaps best embodies the underlying forces at play in the betrayal of the Marikana strikers by both their employer, their government and indeed by their union, the National Union of Mineworkers. Ramaphosa was the founder and general secretary of this union which, admittedly long after he had moved on to the national political stage, collaborated with Lonmin bosses forcing the workers to embark on an unprotected strike.
Ramaphosa had a 9% stake in Lonmin at the time of the massacre and was a non-executive director in charge of its Transformation Committee responsible for implementing the company’s social housing commitments. In its findings, the Farlam Commission admonished the company for failure to meet its housing obligations to workers, arguably the only palpable censure it received from the commission.
Ramaphosa not only failed the workers in this regard but he refused to use his negotiating skills to end the strike and rather opted to designate it as “criminal” and requiring a harsh response by the police. The rest is history.
The working-class community of Marikana continue to demand the development and improvement of their living conditions. The miners continue to demand a living wage. The widows and the union of the dead workers continue to demand reparations and an apology from Ramaphosa. The ANC does not have long to meet these demands before it faces the wrath of the working class in the ballot box in 2024. Time is running out.
Trevor Ngwane is the Director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice, University of Johannesburg.
The views expressed do not necessarily the views of Independent Media or IOL.