Never again?

2013-08-26 10:00

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The state must provide equal funding

South Africans have many reasons to be proud, but the bandage that was placed on the gunshot wound of our past during the transformation process has been slowly but surely coming undone, and something has to give.

In his presidential inauguration speech in May 1994, Nelson Mandela said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another ...”

The events of August 2012 centred on the demands in Marikana of Lonmin’s workers for a living wage, initially amid the killing of 10 people, and then the horrific massacre of 34 mine workers at the hands of the police the following week.

The tragedy that took place at Lonmin’s Marikana mine will live on in SA’s collective consciousness, but the state’s refusal to pay the injured miners’ legal fees is distorting the inquiry. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

We were shocked. We had believed the promise that never again would we see heavily armed police officers unleashing brutality on our citizens. It was a blunt reminder of how far our society had moved from the Mandela promise.

It felt like a declaration of war by the government against its own people.

As shocked as we were, we then had to grapple with the meaning of what had happened. The Marikana massacre and its aftermath is one of those times when we have to use our hard-won freedom to act in defence of our basic rights, the rights of others and the freedom we have attained.

And political freedom is meaningless without economic freedom and justice.

With the establishment of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, like many South Africans I hoped this was an opportunity to get to the bottom of what had happened. I also felt cynical that this was to be yet another Jacob Zuma farce to shut us up, but I did not lose hope.

I hoped that the process would be fair. That it would give all the stakeholders and those affected an opportunity to know the truth. We are all affected – so that means we must all demand the truth.

The ongoing battle for the payment of legal representation for the workers sent disturbing signals to many South Africans.

Using Twitter, spoken-word poet Ntsiki Mazwai appealed to our humanity by stating that we cannot as a society let Advocate Dali Mpofu fight this fight alone.

I am known for ranting and raving on social media and mainstream publications, writing all sorts of political opinion. Ntsiki didn’t know her words would trigger something in me and others that could not be stopped.

Like-minded South Africans came together offline via instant messaging to think of a practical way to intervene and lend support.

Within 36 hours, myself, Nomboniso Gasa, Greg Marinovich, Erik de Ridder, Tracey Nixon and Roderick Nixon set up the Citizens4Marikana initiative.

A website was created and we have begun collecting funds from the public while at the same time setting up an independent trust that will disburse the funds to all of the affected families of the 44 dead, as well as the injured miners who are now unable to fend for themselves.

I am disappointed but not surprised at the decision made by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe not to fund the legal representatives the injured Marikana workers have appointed to represent them at the commission.

I’m not surprised because the decision communicates the position which has long been held by the justice department.

Radebe has not said anything new, but continued to maintain the position the department took in October 2012 that the state would not fund legal representation for the injured and arrested miners.

In the past, he pleaded lack of funds and budgetary constraints as the main reason. The department has now offered additional reasons, which are equally invalid.

They now nonsensically argue that because the state provides evidence leaders, which all parties may use, it does not bear responsibility for funding additional legal representation for any of the parties.

This fails to take into consideration the fact that all the other parties at the commission are financially able to fund their own legal representation in addition to making use of evidence leaders.

The only thing that separates the other parties from the injured and arrested miners is that the injured and arrested miners are too poor to afford legal representation.

Clearly, the department is aware of the principle of equality of arms, and adequate and fair representation. Yet this decision undermines any semblance of that principle.

The commission has never been an equal platform in terms of legal representation. Not because of its own design but due to the consistent refusal by the department to adequately fund the parties in need of support.

The behaviour of the state clearly contradicts the spirit captured in the preamble to the Constitution – that we are a nation that remembers past injustices, and are committed to building a nation based on truth and justice for all.

Because the state is not acting in the best interests of our new nation and living up to that spirit, citizens must themselves stand up and say: “Never again, not in my name!”

» Sexwale is a media and communication strategist with an interest in post-apartheid experiences. She is also a co-founder of Citizens4Marikana

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