Malema coterie, Zuma team to square off at Lonmin memorial
A political showdown between the government and former ANCYL leaders threatens to hijack the memorial service for slain Lonmin workers in Marikana.
Julius Malema and other expelled and suspended members of the ANC Youth League will square off against government officials as mourners gather this morning to pay their last respects to 44 people who were killed at the mine last week.
"As people involved in lessening the pain of victims of the massacre, we have to be there," former ANC Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shivambu told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday.
Shivambu said he, along with Malema and secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, would attend the memorial service both as private citizens and, more importantly, as political activists.
Although the government has been instrumental in organising the memorial service, Shivambu says state officials would not be made welcome, because workers blamed them for the tragedy.
"We don't care what they [government officials] are doing. They are responsible for this mess and we are busy fixing it," Shivambu said.
The league's "alumni" have maintained a strong presence at the mine since the shooting. Malema and, along with seven workers, opened a case of murder against the police at the Marikana police station on Tuesday.
Malema's coterie has used using the shooting as an opportunity to criticise government and lay blame for the tragedy on President Jacob Zuma.
The M&G understands the youth league even extended an invite to former president Thabo Mbeki – who spoke out on the bloody incident on Wednesday.
"Our mining companies must take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror," Mbeki told eNCA in an interview on Wednesday.
The former ANC and South African president's presence at the memorial would be a slap in the face for Zuma, who was embroiled in a bitter leadership contest with Mbeki for the presidency of the party in 2007.
But his spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said that while the Mbeki had received an invitation, he would not be attending.
"Unfortunately he won't be able to go," Ratshitanga told the M&G.
Zuma will also not be attending the service.
"The president is not going to be able to attend the service as he is tending to other issues. He will however have a full contingent of ministers [attend] in his stead," Zuma's spokesperson Mac Maharaj told the M&G.
In spite of their hardline stance, it is unclear if Malema and his allies will receive any official support for the actions from the youth league itself.
Although the league has rejected Malema's expulsion and claims he remains their president until 2014, the youth body says it has not been involved with the organising of any memorial service.
"This is definitely not an ANC Youth League programme and thus I won't be able to comment on it," ANC Youth League spokesperson Khusela Sangoni said.
The government has also dismissed the league's claims that its representatives are not welcome. "This memorial service is not about political point scoring," Harold Maloka, spokesperson for Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, told the M&G. "This is a trying time for the workers and we would appeal to all involved in this matter to maintain dignity and pay their respects without causing a stir."
Maloka said the state representatives' presence at the service would be in accordance with Lonmin workers' wishes. "We have spoken to the workers and they have agreed government can assist with the organisation of the service and also attend, so that we too may mourn this tragedy."
Maloka's claims were supported by Lonmin workers' representative Tholakele Dlanga.
After initially saying on Tuesday that the government was not welcome at the memorial service, Dlanga said on Wednesday that workers had agreed to allow them to attend.
"The government does what it wants and [its representatives] have a right to be here anyway," Dlanga told the M&G. "If they feel remorse and think they can correct their wrongs in this way, then we are fine with it."
Dlanga said the presence of state officials may go a long way towards bridging the rift between government and its people.
"There is a definite chasm between them and workers," he added. "We are lost as a nation and we need guidance from our government."
The memorial was due to begin at 11am on Thursday morning, led by religious leaders from the community and the South African Council of Churches.