Rock drill operators started it, Marikana commission hears

2013-01-29 17:07

Protesting rock drill operators had thrown stones at union members “until there were no stones left” during a march that marked a turning point in the Marikana strike that left 44 people dead.

This was the testimony of a Marikana National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) official before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry today.

NUM vice-secretary for the Rowland Shaft Committee in Marikana, Saziso Albert Gegeleza, said during cross-examination by evidence leader Advocate Mbuyiseli Madlanga that the rock drill operators were the ones who had started the attack on NUM members.

He said the protesters had thrown stones at the NUM members “until there were no more stones left”.

He was responding to a question by Madlanga, who quoted the statements of two other witnesses who claimed the NUM members were the ones who first attacked the strikers.

“I would say he’s lying because the first people who started throwing stones were the strikers,” said Gegeleza.

This incident, on August 11, has been identified as the turning point in the unprotected strike which had started on August 8 with no incidents of violence.

After a shooting near the NUM office, the rock drill operators gathered on a koppie near Nkaneng informal settlement and within the next four days, 10 people, including two security guards, two police officers and six civilians had been killed.

Gegeleza testified that after the incident it was decided that all the union’s shop stewards be removed from the Lonmin mine premises “for their own safety and that alternative accommodation be arranged off the mine”.

“In the light of this information and the very threatening nature of the events of the day before, as well as the general volatility of the situation in Marikana, those of us present in the office at the time decided that the NUM office should be closed and that we should all leave immediately. We did so,” Gegeleza said in his statement, read by NUM lawyer Karel Tip SC. He said he had been “staying away from home since August 12 2012”.

Gegeleza said the union officials had received information that rock drill operators who were embarking on an unprotected strike were marching towards the NUM offices with the intention to burn it down.

He said he was given a spear and knobkierie by NUM official Daluvuyo Bongo after members had decided to stay and protect the union’s office. Bongo was killed by gunmen in October, before he was to testify before the commission.

He had pointed out scenes of violence during the commission’s in-loco inspection three days before he was killed.

Gegeleza said the rock drill operators had later approached the union’s office and and started shouting and throwing stones at NUM members.

He said they dispersed after three shots were fired. But he said he could not tell where the shots were coming from.

Gegeleza said he had been forced to flee his home in Wonderkop, Marikana, since strike violence broke out in August last year.

NUM president Senzeni Zokwana attended the proceedings.

The hearing continues tomorrow.

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