Jim Nichol, legal adviser to the AMCU miners union and 20 miners’ families, writes from South Africa
Retired judge Ian Farlam opened the commission last week into the police shooting of 112 striking Lonmin platinum miners—killing 34—at Marikana on 16 August.
A hundred lawyers were present in the town of Rustenberg, but no families of the dead miners. As the inquiry opened the judge asked for family members to stand while he read the names of the dead. But no one stood.
It’s not that they don’t want to attend. But most miners’ families live 1,000 kilometres away. The miners’ representatives called for an adjournment to bring the families. The Lonmin mine owners’ lawyer and the judge said no.
So we proceeded to the massacre site, the hillock known as “the mountain”. Here, 3,000 strikers gathered each day until 16 August. That day the police moved in with razor wire, teargas, stun grenades, water cannon and automatic rifles.
We then moved on to the “Killing Koppie”, an outcrop of rocks where fleeing miners were trapped and shot. We visited the spots where police killed miners one to 34.
On Day Two we reconvened at the Killing Koppie. People were there from Marikana. Faces of the 34 miners stared at the judge. Their photographs were pinned to placards held as people sang and toyi-toyied a protest dance. “Don’t let the police get away with murder”, said placards.
We inspected the hostels that mine owners Lonmin provide for the workers. Each block fits in 40 men—eight to a room, five rooms to a block. There are four toilets, but two are broken. But hey, this is the five star accommodation. Others live in tin shacks. No broken toilets there—there are no toilets.
We looked into killings during the strike before the massacre. On 11 August, two strikers. On 12 August, two security guards. On 13 August, two police officers and three strikers. And on 14 August, one NUM official died.
I never praise lawyers. But I will make an exception for Dumisa Ntsebeza. In 1985 the apartheid government sentenced him to four years.
On day three of the inquiry he told the judge, “Wives grieve, children weep, mothers sit in silence. Judge, you were once a young advocate and I an attorney. I briefed you on difficult matters. You were courageous. I beg of you today take courage.” The judge adjourned the court.
Amplats, South Africa’s largest platinum mining firm, has sacked 12,000 striking workers. It is trying to stop a growing strike wave that now involves up to 100,000 people.
But hundreds of defiant strikers rallied last week. They said they’ll picket mines and bosses won’t be able to get new workers to replace them.
Transport workers’ union, Satawu, says rail workers and dockers will join a strike of 20,000 lorry drivers for pay. The local government workers’ union, Samwu, announced that its 190,000 members will strike over pay, spreading the strike wave to the public sector.
Talks began last week between platinum mine owners and unions. This includes the NUM, whose conservatism drove miners to wildcat strikes.
Also represented was the AMCU, which led many of the wildcat actions. Both unions are keen for a new national centralised bargaining council. But many workers are sceptical—it was a council like this that blocked their previous attempts to improve wages.