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Mpofu: Marikana was redefined as criminal act

Maryke Vermaak

The strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine was redefined as a criminal act to allow for violence against the workers, the Farlam commission has heard.

Dali Mpofu. (Gallo)

This was the argument put forward by Dali Mpofu on Wednesday, acting for those injured and arrested during violent strikes at the North West mine in August, in reference to emails between former Lonmin board member Cyril Ramaphosa and other senior Lonmin managers. 

The emails were sent on August 15, the day before 34 workers were killed when police opened fire on them while trying to disperse a group of striking workers on a hill near Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana.

"We are going to argue ... that these emails ... constitute concerted pressure that was being put, among others, on the police and firstly on government to not call [the strike] labour-related, but a criminal action, and that was a platform from which it would be easier to inflict violence upon the strikers," Mpofu said.

He was speaking at the commission's hearings at the Rustenburg Civic Centre, in North West.

In one of the emails, Lonmin chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson described how, during a radio interview, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu described the unrest at Marikana as a wage dispute. "Not sure who briefed her. We are waiting to talk to her, and although not too damaging, it's also not too helpful," he wrote.

'Terrible events'
He described the situation as amounting to civil unrest which could not be resolved without political intervention, and which needed to be stabilised by the police or army. Ramaphosa responded that he would talk to Shabangu.

"The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal [acts] and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation," Ramaphosa wrote.

He later communicated that he had spoken to Shabangu in Cape Town. "She agrees that what we are going through is not a labour dispute, but a criminal act. She will correct her characterisation of what we are experiencing."

She would go to the Cabinet and brief President Jacob Zuma, and get Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to act.

Mpofu was questioning National Union of Mineworkers' (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana on the emails, and the change in the strike's characterisation. Mpofu argued that the pressure exerted by senior Lonmin managers helped change it from a "labour dispute" to a "criminal act" within a few hours.

Zokwana disagreed. He said the fact that Shabangu changed her mind did not mean she bowed to pressure by Lonmin. "They might know something we don't know here," he said.

Charecterisation
Mpofu said the change in characterisation made it easier for the police and army to be called in to deal with the strike. Zokwana said he was not in a position to respond.

"Police and Lonmin were better placed to answer," he said. Mpofu said phrasings such as "dastardly criminal", calls for the army to stabilise the situation, and a request for Mthethwa to act in a more "pointed way" helped change the characteristics of the strike.

"We will submit they are all euphemisms for deadly violence."

On Wednesday afternoon, Zokwana said he believed the strike at Marikana would have failed had it not been for the violence. "Had there been no violence at Lonmin, no intimidation, no murders, no people threatening offices, I wonder if that strike could have succeeded."

The commission is investigating the 34 deaths on August 16, when 78 people were also wounded, and 10 deaths, including those of two policemen and two security guards, in the preceding week. – Sapa

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