Marikana: We need closure now

2017-09-03 06:02
Widows of the mine workers who died at Marikana in 2012 carry wreaths during the commemoration of the massacre. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

Widows of the mine workers who died at Marikana in 2012 carry wreaths during the commemoration of the massacre. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

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On August 16 2012, police opened fire on striking workers at the Marikana mine, killing 34 people and injuring many more.

Some were shot in front of journalists. Others were executed after being hunted down by police. It was the culmination of a week of tension and bloodshed at the mine.

Five years on, no police officer has been charged with any offence.

The owner of the mine, Lonmin, has not taken responsibility for what happened, and adequate compensation for the families of those who died that day has not been forthcoming.

Marikana is a stain on post-apartheid South Africa and its legacy will continue to haunt us as long as justice for those affected remains elusive.

We can and must address the issues raised by this appalling massacre. We can start this by ensuring equal and fair treatment for all under the law.

The application of law has been anything but equal.

Last month, 14 mine workers from Marikana were in court for a pretrial hearing, where some were charged with serious public violence, while others were also accused of murder.

However, to date, not a single police officer has been held to account, which gives the impression that there are some victims who are more important than others, who are more recognised than others.

While this was a regular occurrence in the apartheid era, it never occurred to us that this legacy would continue so long after 1994.

The tools to redress the imbalance are there, so why does it persist?

A commission was set up to investigate the Marikana massacre and the days leading up to it.

Evidence presented during the commission showed that the scene had been tampered with by police who, in some instances, went so far as to plant weapons next to mine workers’ corpses.

A series of police photos show that in the morning the deceased mineworkers had no weapons around them, but in the afternoon axes, butcher knives and even a panga could clearly be seen next to the bodies.

Not too late to turn things around

It is just over two years since the Marikana Commission report was released by President Jacob Zuma.

One of the positive recommendations was an inquiry into then national police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s fitness to hold office.

Despite the damning findings against her in relation to her role in the massacre, Phiyega was allowed to see her full contract out – though on suspension – keep her benefits and evade responsibility.

Another recommendation of the commission was that further investigation into the police’s actions was needed to gather evidence for the prosecution.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) took on the task. Despite underfunding, which severely limited Ipid’s ability to completely fulfil its mandate, there have been some partial successes.

For example, the family of 60-year-old Modisaotsile Van Wyk Sagalala, who was shot twice, learnt that he had died in a police vehicle at a detention centre.

This is contrary to the version of events initially given by police, which clearly suggests an attempted cover-up. The family now knows the truth, but there has been no attempt to hold anyone to account for deliberately attempting to subvert the course of justice.

There was a glimmer of hope last December when Zuma outlined steps that would be taken to implement the commission’s recommendations.

This included bringing charges of murder against a major general and three other police officers.

This was followed by an Ipid announcement in March this year that 72 police officers, including Phiyega, had been identified for prosecution for their respective roles in the massacre. But since then, no action has been taken, no officers have yet been charged and there is no indication that they will be.

Cees de Rover, a policing expert who testified at the Marikana Commission, recently wrote that “commissions and panels such as those established around Marikana can be important tools of change, but they can also be a trap, providing breathing space for embattled governments to do nothing”.

How right he was. But it is not too late to turn things around. It’s not too late to hold those responsible to account.

We, the public, must demand funding for Ipid to continue its investigations, and for those implicated to be charged and prosecuted.

And there must be a serious investigation into the role of Lonmin and its directors, as recommended by the Marikana Commission report.

Before any police officer pulled a trigger, before the police and mine workers confronted one another, Lonmin had created the conditions that led to the strike.

And, most importantly, there must be a final resolution on proper compensation for those affected.

The festering wound that is Marikana cannot begin to heal if we allow ourselves to be content with the kind of indifference, impunity and inaction that echo South Africa’s abusive past.

Moeti has a long background in civic activism and has over the years worked at the intersection of governance, communication and citizen action. She is a 2017 Aspen New Voices Fellow.

Follow her on Twitter at @Kmoet


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Read more on:    lonmin  |  ipid  |  riah phiyega  |  jacob zuma  |  marikana

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