Marikana: Executed with extreme prejudice

2014-08-17 15:00

After the guns fell silent that afternoon in Marikana two years ago, the incomprehensible happened.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) used the doctrine of common purpose to charge the 270 surviving miners in police custody with the murders of their 34 dead colleagues.

The common purpose doctrine holds all parties involved in a crime responsible for its consequences.

It was most infamously used by the apartheid government to charge Solomon Mahlangu (21) with the murders of two civilians even though he did not fire any gunshots nor brandish a firearm.

He was part of an Umkhonto weSizwe trio that had sneaked into the country to smuggle pamphlets and weapons before the first June?16 anniversary.

Prosecutors said he had acted in common purpose to commit murder with Johannes Motloung, one of the trio who had fired the fatal shots in a gun battle with police as the three tried to evade capture.

Mahlangu was found guilty and hanged shortly before he turned 23.

In the case of the Marikana miners, the NPA dropped the charges after a public outcry. But their thinking in bringing the charges illustrates the extreme prejudice with which the striking miners were regarded from the beginning, as testimony at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry again highlighted this week.

The testimony focused on why Lonmin management refused to speak to the strikers despite repeated pleas from police and the miners.

The answer is found in a series of conversations between Lonmin management, its then nonexecutive director and shareholder Cyril Ramaphosa, leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Cabinet members.

At the time, Ramaphosa was widely believed to be the next ANC deputy president, giving his opinion enormous weight among Cabinet members who would soon be reporting to him.

From August 10, two days before the murders of two security guards, Lonmin management had made up its mind. It characterised the unprotected strike as illegal and refused to meet the miners.

Lonmin’s refusal to meet some of its most hard-working employees?– rock drill operators who toil for hours in wet, dangerous and cramped caverns underground?– allowed tensions to escalate.

When the guards were killed, Lonmin dug in its heels. It used the reasoning of common purpose to impute responsibility for the murders to all the strikers. It convinced Ramaphosa and the NUM, which also refused to meet the miners, that the wildcat strike was a criminal act.

Ramaphosa, likely acting with conflicted interests, carried this prejudicial view into his conversations with Cabinet members.

He sent an email 24 hours before the massacre boasting to Lonmin management he had convinced then mining minister Susan Shabangu to change her characterisation of the strike from a labour dispute to a criminal act.

He said she would convince President Jacob Zuma and then police minister Nathi Mthethwa “to act in a more pointed way”.

Shabangu, a former deputy police minister, had once told top cops to ignore regulations and kill criminals with a single shot. And that’s what they did on August 16, convinced by Lonmin, Ramaphosa, Cabinet ministers and SAPS management that the miners were criminals.

In a heart-rending scene in the Marikana documentary, Miners Shot Down, a group of miners are pleading with police to be allowed to keep the sticks and spears which they said they needed for protection.

They are humble and respectful. For a moment, they almost win over William Mpembe, the North West deputy police commissioner.

In that moment, he sees through the unfair characterisation and regards the miners as human beings.

Just then, his phone rings. A command from the other end hardens his attitude. As the miners try to leave peacefully, police open fire, causing the chaos that led to three miners and two officers dying.

The scene is a reminder that the prejudicial way the miners were characterised forced them into situations where they first had to negotiate for their humanity to be recognised before anybody would listen to their grievances.

It is also a reminder that those who characterised them criminals have blood on their hands.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.