Max du Preez

Marikana massacre: Shame on all of us

2015-06-30 08:37

Max du Preez

The actions and behaviour of members of a national police force generally reflect the dominating political culture of their country, be it apartheid South Africa, democratic South Africa, the United States, China, Zimbabwe or elsewhere.

Thirty-four striking Lonmin workers were killed without good reason during the Marikana Massacre. Some of them appear to have been executed in cold blood by police. If the National Prosecuting Authority does its job properly, several of these policemen will face criminal charges.

It would be unbearable if the only consequence of the massacre were the sacking of the police commissioner. More than 40 of our citizens lost their lives. Our national sense of morality and justice demands that someone be punished.

Eugene de Kock and dozens of other policemen paid the price for apartheid’s cruelties during the 1980s, not the politicians who had enabled them and created the political climate in which they operated.

These policemen say they followed orders; the political leaders plead innocence. The policemen say their political masters encouraged them and gave them deals; the politicians say they were rogue policemen.

Plausible deniability

We’re talking plausible deniability here, denying knowledge of and responsibility for evil deeds by subordinates because of a lack of proof of direct orders or participation.

We’re there again. The subtext of Marikana is that the striking mineworkers had turned against the ruling party and its alliance partner in the trade union movement and had to be taught a lesson.

The policemen at Marikana and their commanders knew this. When striking workers confronted them, they knew in the back of their heads that these people were the enemies of their political masters; that these masters had previously condoned violent action against dissidents and opponents (remember Andries Tatane?); that ministers had repeatedly called for an approach of “an eye for an eye” and “shoot to kill”; that the police service had, through political meddling and appointments, virtually become the ruling party’s armed wing.

The demonising of the ANC’s political opponents - AMCU, the Economic Freedom Fighters, Numsa, Abahlali baseMjondolo, etc - surely also played a role.

When unions inside Cosatu, like those representing municipal or security workers, or ANC allies like the Ses’Khona People’s Rights Movement become violent during strikes or protests, the police look the other way.

But at Marikana the strike action and protests were driven by AMCU, an enemy of the ANC and its partner, Cosatu.

Cold-hearted reaction

It was very significant that President Jacob Zuma declared, albeit long after Marikana, that apartheid-era methods might again be used to control people who resort to violence. The statement didn’t surprise me, only the honesty to utter it in public.

Zuma and his colleagues’ cold-hearted reaction to the massacre in 2012 and the insensitive way in which they had reacted subsequently and again with the release of the Farlam Report say a lot.

One almost expects Zuma to say that the massacre left him cold, as apartheid justice minister Jimmy Kruger notoriously said about the death of Steve Biko.

But just like PW Botha, Louis le Grange, Adriaan Vlok, Magnus Malan and FW de Klerk walked away scot-free while their foot soldiers had to go to jail or publicly beg for amnesty, so Zuma, Nathi Mthethwa and Co will also avoid any legal responsibility for Marikana.

(The plans to have Mthethwa and Cyril Ramaphosa charged with murder are clearly more about politics than justice - they are driven, after all, by the EFF’s national chairperson, Dali Mpofu. There is no chance of successful prosecutions and this will merely create new expectations that can only lead to more disappointment.)

Judge Ian Farlam and his fellow commissioners were, in my opinion, overly cautious in their report. But there is enough meat in the 600 pages for us as citizens to hold Zuma, his government and his party politically accountable.

The first step would be to bring some of the policemen involved in the killings to court to hear them explain their motivation.

Shame on us

But our accusatory finger should also point at the mining sector - the entire private sector, actually - and to ourselves as a society.

Twenty years after our supposed liberation mining companies such as Lonmin still operate like they did 50 years ago, migrant labour and all. I visited Marikana late last year and I was shocked at the living conditions of most people – and this is a really rich mining company. Many other mines are not much better - and then there’s the Aurora fiasco.

Shame on all of us for allowing this to happen so many years after we shook off the yoke of white minority rule.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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