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Pattern of violence, intimidation against miners

Kwanele Sosibo

Activists and academics say the Marikana shootings are part of a sustained pattern of intimidation and violence against the workers.

Activists and academics say the Marikana shootings are part of a sustained pattern of intimidation and violence against the workers. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Activists and academics are calling the developments in the Marikana case part of a sustained pattern of intimidation and violence against the workers that has already manifested itself in various mines across Rustenburg's volatile platinum belt.

These sentiments emerge following an eventful week in the aftermath of the Marikana killings, with all of the 259 arrested miners being charged with the murder of their 34 colleagues who were shot by police on August 16. The miners were shot after they refused to disperse from a koppie they had been gathering in for a few days.

Earlier in the week, a newspaper report stated that autopsy results show that most of the miners were shot in the back while fleeing police fire, corroborating the miners' version of events which starkly contrasted with the police's argument of self-defence.

Mametlwe Sebei, a unionist who has represented workers at the Aquarius platinum mine in Kroondal in their quest to overtun an unfair dismissal charge dating back to a strike in 2009, says the pattern of arbitrary arrest and forceful incrimination, as is said to be the case by the arrested Lonmin workers, is part of a pattern to "crush the workers' rebellion, whose centre of gravity is Rustenburg."

In 2009 at the Aquarius mine, (which is sub-contracted to Murray & Roberts) close to 4000 workers were fired when they went on a strike despite being encouraged against it by their union, the National Union of Mineworkers.

In August and November 2009, a total of almost 80 workers were arrested allegedly for alleged acts of violence emanating from disagreements with management and union officials over the strike.

In 2011, several workers independently told the Mail & Guardian that in August 2009, workers were being arbitrarily rounded up and arrested in the informal settlement known as emaNdebeleni in Kroondal, regardless of whether they had participated in the strike or not. Of the 36 arrested in August 2009, 17 are currently serving five-year sentences for public violence. Of the 38 arrested in November 2009, 33 are currently on trial, for cases including attempted murder, arson, trespassing and malicious damage to property. The 33 were holed up underground for two days as they ran for cover after a confrontation involving police and mine security. Mothusi Setlhako, one of the workers still facing charges, says they were unarmed during the conflict. Their case resumes in the Rustenburg Magistrates Court in November.

Crispen Chinguno, a Phd candidate at the Wits school of social science says when he interviewed miners in several platinum mines about the use of violence in strikes, many felt that the police were "untransformed" in their use of force. "Workers at Implats during the strike said police would fence off the informal settlement making it difficult to pursue day to day activities," he said. "During the Murray & Roberts strike (Aquarius Kroondal and Marikana), workers were being rounded up in the streets, some people who were not even workers at the mines found themselves in the back of police vans."

Lybon Mabasa, president of the Socialist Party of Azania, who has been to Marikana several times since the killings took place in an effort "to uncover the truth", says the recent announcement by the NPA of charging the Lonmin workers with the murder of their colleagues, is the police's attempt to cover their tracks. "When such a botch up happens, they have to find somebody to pin it on," says Mabasa. "If they're saying that the police were being charged at by miners, then their logic is that the murder is the responsibility of the miners who charged at them, meaning the police response was justified."

Mabasa said on one of his visits to Marikana, miners corroborated allegations they made to the press of their colleagues being shot at from helicopter gunships and being chased and crushed by police Nyalas, with some even pointing out a dismembered, crushed skull to him. Mabasa said he established that many more miners were unaccounted for.

He believes that "contradictions" in the police's account will continue to emerge.

Minister of Safety and Security spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said he could only respond to Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) statistics, as they police the police. Moses Dlamini, spokesperson of IPID, said they were investigating 198 cases of assault of miners in custody but was not sure whether he had received any cases from other mines. He said new statistics would be released in September.

The National Police Commissioner Ria Phiyega is being investigated by the Human Rights Commission for possibly denying the workers' right to life.


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