Marikana union man speaks from grave

2013-01-27 10:00

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Murdered NUM branch secretary tried to avert strike violence

When a trade union official – a key witness to events leading up to the Marikana shootings – died in a hail of bullets, his killers probably thought they’d silenced him forever.

Daluvuyo Bongo, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch secretary for Lonmin Western Platinum, was to testify before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances and events leading to the deaths of 44 people during an illegal strike in August last year.

On October 2, Bongo participated in the commission’s in loco inspection of Marikana.

A slight, energetic man, he pointed out to evidence leaders, lawyers, commission chairperson Judge Ian Farlam and an entourage of journalists, scenes of violent clashes in the days leading up to the shooting of 34 protesters by police.

Three days later, Bongo lay dead in a pool of blood at the Wonderkop hostel, where he lived. He had been shot six times.

Days earlier, he had sent his wife away to the Eastern Cape and arranged for other NUM shop stewards to find places to stay to escape escalating threats of violence.

Police have arrested Zenzile Nxenge and Siyakhale Kwazile in connection with his murder. They are out on bail.

This week, documents before the commission by NUM lawyer Karel Tip, contained correspondence between Bongo, union officials and Lonmin management before rock-drill operators went on strike.

In one email, dated August 8, Lonmin’s Larry Dietrich heaped praise on Bongo after he reported back on efforts to dissuade rock-drill operators from going on an unprotected strike.

Bongo’s email reads: “The mass meeting went peaceful and the attendance was very good. We educated the rock-drill operators and show the danger they will achieved (sic) in their wrongdoing. Some NUM members advice (sic) them as well,” he wrote.

Dietrich replied: “Thank you very much. Greatly appreciated.”

Bongo’s emails became crucial evidence for NUM’s secretary for health and safety, Erick Gcilitshana, who took the stand this week.

Gcilitshana testified that a unilateral wage increase outside of formal collective bargaining structures after a strike by rock-drill operators at Impala Platinum in February last year, undermining a standing wage agreement, could have sparked what happened at Lonmin.

Impala rock-drill operators demanded R9 000 a month.

The company dismissed 17 000 of them, but later rehired most.

There is more testimony from Bongo that could help NUM’s case further.

This week, Farlam said the union’s lawyers could use video footage of Bongo’s participation during the in loco inspection.

Advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the families of the deceased and the more than 300 people injured and arrested during the shooting, also alluded to how Bongo’s presence would have been crucial.

But despite help from beyond the grave, it was a gruelling week for Gcilitshana.

It was revealed during cross-examination that the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) had more members than the NUM on Rustenburg’s platinum mines.

Mpofu laid into him, saying that one of the quickest ways for a union to lose members was to lose their trust and be viewed as “a sweetheart union”.

The NUM’s credibility took another knock when Gcilitshana admitted that the union’s officials made no effort to help those who were hospitalised or arrested on the day of the shooting.

He also admitted NUM officials hadn’t visited them either, saying they expected members to notify them first if they needed help.

“How was it going to be possible for NUM members to come to your office to tell you that they were in police custody?” asked Mpofu.

Gcilitshana replied: “It would not be possible, but after their release they could be able to come to the NUM office.”

Asked Mpofu: “So if they were not released, they would still be sitting there waiting to come to the NUM office?”

When Farlam asked Gcilitshana whether the union’s officials knew if some of its members had been arrested, he said they did, but “the issue was that even during the strike they had made it clear they didn’t want to have anything to do with the NUM”.

Gcilitshana’s responses seem at odds with NUM billboards around town calling on miners to join “the caring union”.

Mpofu argued the NUM was irresponsible to refuse to negotiate with rock-drill operators outside formal bargaining structures after 10 people had died during the strike by August 15.

Gcilitshana testified the NUM decided its president, Senzeni Zokwana, would not go to the koppie where the striking workers had gathered because they were singing songs calling for him and his union to be killed.

The commission continues.

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