Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope and Peter Alexander investigate the scene of the killing
Strikers were surrounded by heavily armed police and soldiers, and killed while fleeing from gunfire. The state forces were not “protecting themselves”. They participated in well-organised, premeditated slaughter.
We interviewed surviving miners and looked at physical evidence on the site of the massacre. What we found is even more shocking than the story presented in the media, even here in South Africa. Follow numbered events on the map above.
1: On the day of the killing about 3,000 striking miners were gathered on and just below the “mountain” (actually a small hill). Joseph Mathunjwa, president of their union, the AMCU, came and pleaded with them to leave to avoid a police attack. The miners refused.
2: Within 15 minutes of Mathunjwa leaving, the police and army laid razor wire, separating the strikers from the Enkanini informal settlement, where many of them live. Casspirs (armoured cars), horses and water cannon moved up to encircle the workers.
3: Some workers walked down to the razor wire to see if they could still get out through a gap. Witnesses say police near the “small koppie” (hillock) opened fire on them, probably with rubber bullets.
Some workers fled through a five metre gap in the razor wire. They were met with a barrage of live fire from the police and many died. Images of this shooting were broadcast around the world.
4: Terrified strikers scattered in all directions, with a large number heading for cover by a koppie about 300 metres in the opposite direction from the wire. This “killing koppie” is where the largest number of strikers died.
No cameras recorded this slaughter. But evidence remained on Monday, four days after the massacre. There are remnants of pools of blood. Police markers show where corpses were removed. We found markers labelled with letters up to ‘J’.
5-8: Other strikers were killed as they fled across the fields. Some examples are marked on the map. Shots were fired from helicopters and some workers, heading for hillock, were crushed by Casspirs.
By Monday the whole area had been swept clean of rubber bullets, bullet casings and tear-gas canisters. We also saw patches of burned grass, which local workers claim are the remains of police fires used to obscure evidence of deaths.
Sisters, wives and daughters of the miners marched to the “mountain” on the Saturday after the massacre. One woman told us, “The television is hiding the truth about the killings. It’s lying!”
Another said, “My husband has worked here for 27 years—waking up at 3am and returning at 2.30pm. “He earns 3,000 rand (£230) a month. What clown would earn so little and not protest?”
They told us about the shootings. “All we saw was a helicopter flying. We heard shots. Then we saw men running and cops picking up anyone running around the streets.”
Many have not seen their relatives since the massacre. Some didn’t know if they were in hospital, in prison or dead. They also face immediate practical problems. One said, “We have no money for rent, food, for our children’s schools. We expect no more income this month.”
Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope and Claudia Ortu
Workers’ determination to continue their strike against Lonmin has hardened enormously since the massacre. Two massive meetings on Saturday and Monday attended by 12,000 to 15,000 workers and their families pledged to continue.
They said it would be a betrayal of their slain comrades if they gave up. The strike has been presented as a sectional action by rock drillers. But we spoke to numerous strikers from other sections of the mine, and nobody we heard was appealing just to the drillers.
Lonmin management said any worker still striking on Monday would be sacked. It also maintains that it will only negotiate with the NUM. A striker speaking at one of the mass meetings asked his colleagues if the bosses intended the 80 people who lay in hospital, or those in prison, to return.
Even the government recognises that Lonmin has lost touch with reality. The minister of police told the company it could not fire workers during a week of mourning called by president Jacob Zuma. On Tuesday the company withdrew the sack threat.
AMCU is belittled as not being a serious union. But the reality is that while it is ignored by Lonmin, the NUM is doing deals without support from the workers.
There have been shock-horror stories about the strikers carrying traditional weapons, but they are no match for automatic weapons—and the strikers had no illusions that spears could beat Casspirs.
The issue that unites the workers is the demand for 12,500 rand (£960) a month. This is a massive increase—400 percent for some workers. NUM attacks AMCU for supporting such “unrealistic” demands.
But it forgets its own history. The main demand in the great 1946 African miners strike, which NUM glorifies, was for ten shillings. That represented a 500 percent increase. It was a powerful mobiliser, and eventually it was won.
Now, the demand for 12,500 rand is a threat to the system, to profits and to industrial relations machinery. Just as in 1946, the ruling party has united behind the bosses. A victory for Lonmin strikers is a victory for workers everywhere. A defeat will encourage more massacres.
Chris Molebatse is a local monitor for the Bench Marks Foundation, which looks into conditions for miners. He told Socialist Worker, “Last year a white man died underground. People were told not to go into work.
“Not long after a black man died. Miners wanted to stop work, but were told to go on as normal. This anger has been building for a long time.”
He said bosses at the Lonmin firm take a lot of miners on as subcontractors, rather than employing them. “Living conditions are terrible. People are housed in camps with no sanitation or running water.
“And these are people who mine for platinum! Meanwhile Lonmin officials drive in from Sandton, South Africa’s most expensive suburb.”