Amcu's leader Joseph Mathunjwa has done very little talking at the Marikana commission. Yet when the dust settled, he emerged somewhat vindicated.
In a day that was dependent on two recorded pieces of evidence, namely an August 15 2012 SAfm debate between National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana, Lonmin vice-president of human capital and external affairs Barnard Mokwena, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union's (Amcu) president Mathunjwa; and a recording of a subsequent meeting at Lonmin involving the police and more representatives of the above-mentioned parties; Mathunjwa remained silent after initially being led by Amcu legal counsel advocate Tim Bruinders on Tuesday.
He sat almost expressionless, whispering the odd correction to interpreters as his seemingly straightforward narrative repeated itself.
The meeting in the second recording culminated in both unions going to the koppie to address workers who were still refusing to disperse and disarm – an attempt that ended with the complete rejection of Zokwana by the workers, contrasted by the lukewarm reception they gave Mathunjwa. Ultimately, though, he also failed in his bid to disarm them.
Mathunjwa has maintained that Amcu, which was fast gaining ground at Lonmin after first ousting the NUM at Karee the previous year, had nothing to do with the unprotected industrial action rock-drill operators had been plotting since July. His union, he said, advocated that Lonmin deal with the matter openly by involving all of the unions operating at the mine.
Instead, Lonmin engaged the workers outside of union structures, offering them a R700 bonus and shutting Amcu out of any talks it held with the United Association of South Africa, Solidarity and the NUM, Mathunjwa said.
Amcu has also clung on to the narrative that workers were shot at outside of the NUM's offices, which is key in explaining their subsequent armament and the murders that took place in the run-up to August 16.
Although the union maintained it had nothing to do with the workers' demand of R12 500 and did not oppose Lonmin's application to have the unprotected strike halted, Amcu's decision to visit armed workers as they gathered at the koppie sometime after August 11 is likely to be scrutinised, as it did not follow prescribed union protocol. But Mathunjwa did say that he received an SMS from Mokwena on August 12 that read: "Hey broer, 4 people shot at Wonderkop, call an urgent meeting with your members."
If NUM president Zokwana's attitude of disassociating himself from his striking members during cross-examination is anything to go by, Amcu may also be accused of using the unprotected strike to canvass for membership. The union might come under fire for supposedly coercing workers on to the koppie as intimidation was a huge part of the workers' strategy in the Lonmin and Impala strike where the NUM's turf was subsequently eroded.
While Amcu argued it was being proactive, showing leadership in a time of crisis by finding out what it could do to help, that same "proactive" attitude will be used against it as the other parties, particularly the NUM and Lonmin, will argue it took place outside of accepted union processes.
Being arguably the most significant witness to take the stand so far, it will be interesting to see how Mathunjwa holds up under cross examination as leftist public sympathy tends to sway in the direction of Amcu, despite the tainted reputation of workers who later became the union's members. If the previous day's proceedings are anything to go by, Mathunjwa may take the moral high ground, painting Amcu as a union that was sidelined as it sought to disturb the status quo and genuinely cared for the workers' circumstances regardless of their affiliation.