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Amcu president 'misled' police on strikers

Kwanele Sosibo

AMCU's Joseph Mathunjwa was accused of misleading the police into believing that workers would disarm on the morning of August 16.

Footage of Amcu leader ­Joseph ­Mathunjwa's ­meeting with workers on August 16 reveals a contradictory message. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Mathunjwa, who spoke to the striking miners on the evening of August 15 after they refused to listen to National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana, told the commission he was saluted by Major General William Mpembe after his return from the koppie as there was optimism that the strike would end the following morning.

In his witness statement, Mathunjwa said that he told the parties present at the debriefing that "workers had been receptive to the proposal that they return to work and that we would see them again in the morning to discuss further".

According to the South African Police Service's legal counsel, advocate Ishmael Semenya, Mathunjwa made an undertaking that workers would lay down their arms and go back to work the following day, a claim to which Mathunjwa responded by saying that video clips of the evening in question were already before the commission and could shed better light on the matter.

In a video clip from August 15, a worker said they were willing to let Amcu try to bring the employer to them, but the NUM should not be involved.

This week, as he was being led in evidence by Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union's legal counsel, advocate Tim Bruinders, Mathunjwa made some startling remarks. He said he believed the strike to be the work of "sinister forces unknown to ourselves [Amcu]", forces linked to a politically aided campaign by the NUM to "reclaim Lonmin". He was not asked to substantiate that statement, although it may come back to haunt him in cross-examination.

Peaceful resolution
He also admitted to "competition" between his union and the NUM, whose turf it continues to erode across the platinum belt. In a video clip of Amcu's penultimate visit to the koppie on August 16, the union's national organiser Dumisani Nkalitshana made the blunder of leading the strikers in a rendition of "Le Num sizoyibulala kanjani" (How will we eradicate the NUM), perhaps unaware that he was being filmed. It is a song that, depending on the agenda of the scrutiniser, can be interpreted literally.

In the testimony, which stretched over two days, Amcu relied largely on recorded material to explain the pivotal events of August 15, a day Mathunjwa said was pregnant with the possibility of a peaceful resolution.

To recount the events of August 16, the union relied largely on Mathunjwa's oral evidence, although a clip of his visit to the koppie on August 16 was illustrative of the combination of agendas at play, with Mathunjwa telling the workers that a plan to spill the workers' blood had been hatched by the NUM and Lonmin. To his credit, though, the clip also reveals that he made a concerted effort to convince workers to disarm as he understood the urgency with which the police wanted to defuse the situation. He repeatedly relied on the expression of the ram retreating, not in defeat, but in order to fight another day, when asked to prove that he asked workers to disperse.

Before Semenya's cross-examination, Mathunjwa said he accepted the evidence leaders' findings that nobody had died on August 11 when workers marched on the NUM's offices and were shot at. Workers have used the alleged deaths as a reason for being armed.

Semenya's deliberate and sometimes pedantic style of cross-examination managed at times to corner the witness. A significant spot of trouble came when Semenya put it to Mathunjwa that he had lied about knowing Mgcineni Noki, one of the striking workers. A video clip of August 16 shows Mathunjwa standing next to Noki, who announces that they will "finish the police off" if they do not leave the koppie.

Mathunjwa's turn at the witness stand drew significant crowds to the commission, with the auditorium turning into a sea of red and green T-shirts. At one point, even Frans Baleni, the general secretary of the NUM, dropped by, ceremoniously greeting several rows of workers in red NUM T-shirts.

Lonmin's legal representative, advocate Schalk Burger, cross-­examined Mathunjwa after Semenya.


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