Sunday, October 14, 2012
Marikana: The murders before the murders
Marikana: The murders before the murders
14 October 2012
Jared Sacks says NUM officials shot at striking workers at the very start of the conflict
The Politics of Representation: NUM and the beginning of the Marikana murders
Since the Marikana Massacre marks a turning point in the history of our country, I went to the small mining town in the North West. I wanted to know what truly happened and what this means for the future of our so-called democracy. I hoped that my trip would enable me to answer some of the burning questions left obfuscated by media, government and civil society campaigns alike.
It seemed to me that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to uncover the cause of the violence at a distance from Marikana because of the complete failure of most media outlets to ask the right questions of the right people. Professor Jane Duncan of Rhodes University has found that journalists rarely interviewed independent mineworkers or residents of Marikana preferring to quote 'official sources' such as unions, Lonmin or the police. Moreover, my experience of previous incidents of repression in South Africa had taught me that such sources are often unreliable as they have a lot to lose from telling the truth.
Through my investigations I found that, contrary to many media reports, inter-union rivalry was not the immediate cause of the violence. In fact, a significant cause cause of the violence can be laid squarely on the National Union of Mineworkers and their murder of two NUM members - which until the 2nd of October had remained completely unreported.
Meeting the community
After meeting a community member (whose family were not direct employees of Lonmin) in Johannesburg, I spent a week at the end of September living in the massive Inkanini shack settlement in the township of Wonderkop. Together, Inkanini and Wonderkop dwarf Marikana itself, housing the vast majority of the area's mineworkers. Yet almost all the roads there remain unpaved and residents are forced to go all the way to the 'city centre' for most of their needs. Geographically and socio-economically, Wonderkop is the bastard stepchild of the Marikana municipality further marginalised by Lonmin whose corporate social responsibility initiatives remain unnoticeable.
During my visit, I spoke to Lonmin workers who had participated in the strike and others who were not active strikers. I interviewed the wives and children of the miners and I also sat down with unemployed and self-employed residents who did not have family members working at Lonmin.
I began to piece together a more accurate, detailed and shocking timeline of the strike and how it eventually degenerated into the horrifying footage played out for the whole world to see.
Perhaps the most striking thing I heard repeatedly in Wonderkop was the near complete hatred that all residents, regardless of their connection to the strike, had towards the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
I had assumed that within Wonderkop there would be a divide between supporters of NUM and those that had jumped ship to their smaller non-COSATU affiliated rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). I had also assumed that there would at least be a significant minority of residents who blamed the strikers for instigating the killings and felt that NUM still remained a relevant and credible force amongst Lonmin workers.
And yet every single person that I spoke to, without fail, blamed NUM for starting the violence and reneging on their responsibility of representing the workers. This was the case even when people that I interviewed expressed dislike for the strikers and their own subsequent acts of brutality. Almost everyone felt more hatred towards NUM than they did towards Lonmin, the police or even Jacob Zuma's government.
Alternative timeline: how the strike began
On Wednesday, the 8th of August, some rock-drill operators (RDOs) from various Lonmin mines had a mass meeting demanding a significant salary increase. The NUM leaders present categorically refused to support the strike despite the union's stated mission to promote and represent the interests of its members. On the following day (Women's Day - a holiday for the workers), thousands of RDOs from all Lonmin mines met at the Lonmin owned football stadium, adjacent to the settlement, where they agreed to approach Lonmin management directly as NUM was refusing to represent them.
According to Xolani, an active striker from Lonmin's Karee mine, RDOs "came together as workers, not as a union." As the large majority of the workers at the assembly were NUM members, the AMCU was unrepresented at this meeting.
On the morning of Friday the 10th, workers assembled and marched to the offices of Lonmin management. David, a Lonmin mine geologist I interviewed (who was returning from work and was not at that point in time, part of the strike), decided to join the striking RDOs to see what was going on. David told me that management refused to speak to the workers, who were assembled peacefully, and told them to go back to the NUM leadership.
Xolani and a few other participants in the march corroborated this. He explained that security had tried to stop the march and that after a long wait, the general manager of the mine came out and then went back in to fetch a NUM leader. After waiting for almost an hour, the NUM leader came out and reprimanded the workers saying that they will not get anything without going through their union (NUM).
As a result of Lonmin and NUM's refusal to meet with the workers, over 3,000 RDOs and other miners decided to go on strike and refused to clock-in that evening. This was a wildcat strike organised directly by workers themselves without any union representation.
11th of August: march on NUM
At approximately 7am on the Saturday, workers (still primarily RDOs) decided to go to the main offices of NUM in Wonderkop and present them with a memorandum. It is important to note that the NUM offices are also the offices of the ANC and SACP in Wonderkop. They are manned by the top five NUM branch leaders from all the Lonmin mines in Marikana. These leaders are senior to shop-stewards and are elected to their position by workers for a period of three years. Interestingly, David explained to me that they get their normal worker's salary plus a huge bonus of R14,000 per month from Lonmin. They are therefore accountable to management. Both the NUM "leaders and Lonmin are happy with this arrangement".
As strikers were by and large NUM members, they naturally were angry that their own union refused to listen to them. The memorandum demanded that NUM represent them in their call for a 12,500 Rand minimum wage for all miners. NUM's stated raison d'etre is, after all, to be a democratic organisation that represents its members.
Julius, an RDO from Lesotho at Lonmin since 2008, explains that as a NUM member, he was hoping that the memorandum would convince NUM leaders of the significance of their wage demands.
Only a handful of AMCU members were present during that march as many workers from the Karee mine, where AMCU already had a membership presence, was far away and not yet participating en-mass in the strike. Xolani, one of the few AMCU members present that day, admits that this protest was really a case of NUM members rebelling against their own leadership, not a case of inter-union rivalry.
11th of August: the first murders ‘a different account'
Once striking RDOs were about 100-150 meters away from the NUM office, eye-witnesses (both from within the march and informal traders in and around the taxi rank) all report, without exception, that approximately 15 to 20 NUM 'top five' leaders and other shop-stewards came out the office and began shooting at the protesting strikers somewhere in the vicinity of the Wonderkop taxi rank.
Some strikers I interviewed claim that these NUM leaders first threw rocks at them before the shooting started. Others say that they they were attacked from two different angles of the taxi rank. There is also a discrepancy as to just how many guns were in the possession of the leadership who came out of the NUM office (reports range from between five and 15 firearms).
However without exception all strikers and other eye-witnesses claim that NUM shot at the protesters without warning or provocation - that it was a clear ambush. From that point on, the primarily NUM members who were marching towards the NUM office ran in many directions: back along the road in which they had come, through the nearby bond houses and through Lonmin-owned hostels' property. They later reassembled at Lomin's football stadium and then opted to re-assemble, for the sake of safety, on the nearby koppie, a small hilltop uniquely placed on public land between Wonderkop, Marikana and the various Lonmin mines. Protesters seem to have made no attempt to defend themselves and there seems to have been no further clashes for the rest of the day.
John, a non-striking Lonmin worker who was returning home from work, saw two bodies of strikers: one lying dead by the bus stop (in the taxi rank) and the other just outside the workers' hostel. The range of people I interviewed corroborated the location of the two dead bodies. However it was extremely difficult to confirm the names of the dead strikers as neither Lonmin nor the police have confirmed any deaths at all on the 11th or released any substantive information about what happened on that day.
However, one person I interviewed provided me with the following new names not the list of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate: S. Gwadidi from the Roeland Shaft and Tobias Tshivilika from New Mine Shaft. Both were reportedly RDOs and also NUM members.
I was not able to assess if these names are correct or if any other people were injured during this shooting on the 11th of August.
However everyone I interviewed agreed on this general timeline of the murders: two deaths at the very beginning of the violence followed by a subsequent eight deaths and a number of injuries during the following three days (Sunday the 12th of August until Tuesday the 14th of August).
It started out as a peaceful strike
One of the questions I asked a wide range of residents in Wonderkop was exactly when striking workers began carrying traditional items such as sticks, knobkerries and pangas. I wanted to find out when and why the workers began to arm themselves.
The consensus, with one exception, was that the strikers went to their homes to fetch their traditional weapons on Saturday the 11th of August after the murder of two strikers. In the words of David, who was present at the march (but still not yet on strike himself), "people decided to arm themselves [after the first two murders] in self-defence". Xolani and Julius support this assertion: they had nothing in their hands during the march.
I asked other residents around Wonderkop. Some women leaders from the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO), a body aligned to the ANC, SACP and COSATU, agreed that the miners only took up arms in self-defence after their members were murdered by NUM officials.
I spoke to informal traders and bystanders at the scene of the crime asking them "who started the violence" and if any of the strikers were carrying "sticks, knobkerries or pangas" during the clash with the NUM leadership. Many were hesitant to speak to me. Yet after I assured them that they would remain anonymous, all, without exception, said that the violence on that day came from the people working in the NUM office. When I asked some young men playing draughts who killed whom, they merely pointed in the direction of the NUM office saying it was "them". By all accounts the strikers were unarmed that morning when they marched to their own union office.
When I returned from my visit to Marikana, I began searching through all the mainstream and alternative media reports I could find. After reading hundreds of articles, I found none that mentioned this incident on the 11th of August. Until the Farlam Commission recently interviewed a worker about the events on that day, not a single media report had acknowledged that the first deaths occurred on the 11th of August rather than on the 12th.
A single early South African Press Association story placed the first two shootings on the 10th of August in the evening. But that was all. That story contradicts other mainstream media reports and does not corroborate with what people say on the ground. It seems most likely that the reporting is mistaken and those four people mentioned in the article were actually shot on the morning of the 11th during the march on NUM offices and that two of them later died.
The only other possible explanations for the lack of reporting the incident would be either (a) that the murders on the 11th did not take place at all and everyone I have interviewed were somehow lying or (b) there is some kind of cover-up of the murders of Mr. Gwadidi and Mr. Tshivilika - both unlikely conclusions.
All the other articles I've read have told a completely different story: that the first deaths occurred on Sunday the 12th of August - these include two of the security guards in the daytime and two other miners in the evening (see for instance, see the following articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).
It is as if no one outside Marikana knows that two people were murdered on that day in broad daylight at the busy Wonderkop taxi rank. This is strange except when one considers that no one in Wonderkop/Marikana has access to the media except for NUM, Lonmin and the South African Police Service (SAPS). The media, who were not present in person in Marikana until later in the week were relying on these three official bodies for their entire investigation and not a single community member or worker was actually interviewed during the first few days of the strike.
As Professor Jane Duncan's analysis of the media coverage of the Marikana massacre from the 13th until the 22nd of August has shown, only three percent of media articles actually included interviews with workers themselves rather than "official" institutions such as government, SAPS, Lonmin, NUM and AMCU. With one exception, journalists that did actually speak to workers were only interested in asking questions about muthi.
What this means is that no eye-witnesses were contacted by journalists and, when a few were eventually contacted (mostly after the 16th of August) they focused primarily on the more recent massacre and overlooked the original cause of the violence.
Causes and responsibilities
Many analysts and academics with easy access to the elite public sphere place the root cause for the Lonmin strike and the subsequent violence on the deprivation and exploitation meted out each and everyday on RDOs and other miners all over South Africa. Greg Marinovich's recent interviews with Lonmin RDOs have done a lot to illuminate the lives and working conditions in the mines.
However, I found that a significant portion of the immediate cause of the violence can be laid squarely on the National Union of Mineworkers. It was NUM that undemocratically refused to represent their own workers and instead sided with Lonmin management in the wage dispute. But even more disturbing, NUM saw its own workers as a potential enemy from within - an uneducated and unthinking mass to be controlled and managed rather than served.
This is why NUM leaders such as Frans Belani think that it is impossible for workers to organise themselves without a 'third force' acting from behind the scenes. But as my interviews have shown quite clearly, workers were acting by themselves and for themselves regardless of union affiliation - or rather, in rebellion against their own union leadership. They were their own leaders.
Yet, the paranoid and delusional fear that NUM members are being 'remote controlled' by outsiders set on 'destroying the union' may have been what lead its leadership at Lonmin towards responding irrationally and violently to the striker's peaceful march on the NUM office.
The police did nothing in response to the two deaths on the 11th of August. No one was arrested that day, nor was anyone interrogated. This was despite the fact that many strikers present during the murders assert that they can identify at least some of their assailants. Xolani, for instance, named two of the shop-stewards: Bongani from the Training Centre and Mbulelo from the fourth shaft in Wonderkop. Others pointed out the Lonmin 'top five', one of whom seems to have now been assassinated.
I asked David if he thought there might have been an alternative to the violence if the police had arrested the murderers on that fateful day. He replied, "I think it would be different if police had arrested NUM...if you don't arrest anybody, then it seems like you are protecting them."
Whether or not police could have uncovered the full story on that day, the act of doing nothing left workers with the perception that they were isolated. "Worker, you are on your own" could be their rephrasing of Bantu Steve Biko's famous words. If one is standing unarmed and vulnerable against armoured vehicles, guns, and even the full might of the South African state, then, as workers may have put it when meeting on top of the now infamous koppie on the afternoon of the 11th of August: its time to get ready for war.
 Because of the recent spate of murders targeting NUM leaders in Marikana, the names of everyone interviewed for this article have been change, though their real names are known to the author.
Jared Sacks is a Cape Town-based social justice activist, editor of the anthology No Land! No House! No Vote! Voices from Symphony Way and a founder of the non-profit organisation Children of South Africa. This article first appeared in the Daily Maverick.