On 16 August 2012, strikers gathered for the eighth consecutive day of strike action at the Lonmin Plc Marikana mine in South Africa. Unbeknown to them, Zukiswa Mbombo, the police chief of North West Province, was planning a security crackdown that would put an end to the dispute. Four thousand rounds of live ammunition were delivered and ambulances took up position close by. Before the day was out, 34 striking miners had been shot dead and 78 wounded in what was dubbed the “Marikana Massacre”.
Over a year later, the official commission of inquiry, headed by Honourable Judge Ian Gordon Farlam, unearthed shocking new evidence that police had lied and falsified documents to cover up the truth about the massacre. A computer hard drive with videos and photos from the scene of the killings had been submitted, along with thousands of pages of previously unseen police documents. It emerged that many of these documents had apparently been constructed after the events, notably during a special nine-day meeting in which the police had been preparing for the inquiry. You have to wonder how much more has not being revealed.
New testimony suggested the police had hunted down and killed fleeing protesters and that weapons had been planted next to the bodies of the dead in an attempt to justify the shooting. Many of the victims had been shot in the back and many victims were discovered far from police lines.
Police officials tried to defend their actions by arguing that the protesters were armed and belligerent. The strikers were certainly brandishing machetes and spears, but, according to testimony at the inquiry, none of the hundreds of police officers in Marikana were injured. Many people have compared the incident to the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, when apartheid police killed 69 protesters in a South African township. The police at Sharpeville also used “self-defence” to justify shooting protesters.
The industrial action had effectively brought the entire plant to a standstill. A transcript of a meeting between Lonmin Plc and the police suggests that there had been a joint plan to break the strike. Company executives, under considerable financial pressure to resolve the dispute, had lobbied politicians and police chiefs to ramp up the police presence. Three days before the massacre, Albert Jamieson, the chief commercial officer of Lonmin, wrote to the minister for mineral resources, Susan Shabangu, requesting decisive action. He and his colleagues are believed to have colluded with the police, providing resources (CCTV, helicopters, etc) and crucial intelligence. Lonmin had more than 500 contracted security officials working for them.
At the time of writing, these issues are still under investigation and Lonmin has declined to comment on the allegations until the company has made full representations to the Farlam commission. But don’t hold your breath. The inquiry was due to have concluded its investigations by December 2012, but proceedings have stalled ever since. Lack of funding for lawyers representing the victims is cited as one of the problems.
At the anniversary of the killings earlier this year, the white wooden crosses that had been erected in commemoration of the dead were found lying scattered at the bottom of the rocky outcrop known as the “Hill of Horror”. Some had even been broken. One of the widows told reporters: “No one cares about the men who died here because they were nobodies.”