Marikana: five years on

44 people were killed around the Marikana platinum mine, near Rustenburg, about 2 hours north-west of Johannesburg between 11-16 August 2012. 34 miners who had gone on strike were killed by the South African police on the 16 August. 10 people were killed in the days before 16 August, two were police officers.

The Marikana Commission of Inquiry reported in 2015.  It criticised the police, Lonmin (the mining company that owned the mine), the striking miners and the trade unions.

Most criticism was directed at the police operation for the killings on the 16 August. The commission found that the police decided to move from an encirclement and containment plan, which in the Commission’s view could have been implemented without significant risk of loss of life on the morning of 16 August or the following day to a plan to demand the striking miners disarm and if not force would be used which would inevitably lead to bloodshed. The Commission also severely criticised the police for not ceasing shooting at scene 1 where 16 people were killed and that at scene 2 where 17 people were killed there was a, “complete lack of control and command”.

The Commission recommended a full investigation to ascertain criminal liability on the part of all members of the South Africa police who were involved in the incidents at scene 1 and 2. Over a year later in December 2016 President Zuma said criminal charges would be brought against senior police officers involved in the killings. In March 2017 the Independent Police Investigative Directorate identified 72 police officers for prosecution in relation to their roles in the killings at Marikana. These 72 have not yet been formally charged.

The Commission recommended that there be further investigation into all the killings and assaults that took place between 11 and 15 August 2012 to determine whether there is a basis for prosecution. This has happened in part however the National Prosecuting Authority said it was postponing indefinitely the trial of 17 strike leaders who had been charged in connection to the killings that took place between 12 and 14 August 2012.

The Commission recommended that there must be an inquiry into the fitness to hold office, of the National Police Commissioner at the time, Riah Phiyega. She was suspended, an inquiry was held which recommended her dismissal from office and she was dismissed following an appeal in June 2017. She continues to contest the findings of the inquiry. Riah Phiyega is one of the 72 police officers identified for prosecution.

The Commission was critical of the conduct of Lonmin for not doing more to resolve the dispute, not doing more to ensure the safety of employees, not responding effectively to the threat and outbreak of violence and failure to implement social undertakings it had committed to do. There are reports in 2017 that Lonmin has said given the price of platinum it cannot do more to assist those directly affected by the massacre at Marikana e.g. through re-housing.

The Commission of Inquiry went into the events leading up to and the on the day itself in considerable detail however its terms of reference and its interpretation of them led it to not considering the wider context in which Marikana occurred.

The Inquiry did not really consider, comment on the mining companies continued use and reliance on migrant labour which has led a considerable number of them having two families one in the area they from and one the area they stay, around the mine. The poor conditions around the mines, especially housing. Why did this and why do other labour and community disputes in South Africa move fairly quickly to violence? Why did the police respond by the use of lethal force rather than containment? What are the implications for this on police and community relations?  Why are a number of  ” corporate social responsibility projects” seemingly more about public relations and company image and not substantial and lasting improvements? Why has the mining industry failed to transform itself more than 20 years since the end of apartheid?

Many of those affected by massacre at Marikana still feel there has not been justice.  Some groups focus on the 34 killed by the police on 16 August. There were at least 44 killed as 10 were killed in the week preceding. Those individuals who recklessly caused and contributed to the deaths of 44 people in and around Marikana between 9 -16 August should face justice. But as well as holding individuals to account there is the need to address systemic weaknesses and failures in and across the mining industry, in policing and by those engaging in labour and community protests.

The killings, the massacre at Marikana should never have happened. That they did is a terrible loss to the families involved and a stain on democratic South Africa. The challenge since has been to ensure such events never re-occur but also to transform the mining industry so it treats its workers more fairly and ensure greater benefits flow to the communities and areas where the mines are located.  Five years on it is difficult to conclude the mining industry has or is transforming its practices. More needs to be done and now to provide better support and assistance to those directly affected by what happened at Marikana.

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