Deprived of breadwinners, the lives of the families of the Marikana massacre victims are on hold while the Farlam commission continues.
This week, President Jacob Zuma asked the nation to pray for the families of the victims of the Marikana massacre, which happened exactly one year ago today. He would have done better to look at his email inbox: sitting there is a letter from those very families, asking for financial assistance from the government as the Farlam commission of inquiry into the massacre drags on beyond its initial deadline. By now, it should have heard all the testimony about the events of August 16 2012.
The presidency’s only response to the letter was to acknowledge receipt. Yet the families’ lives are on hold while the commission continues: deprived of breadwinners, they cannot institute a civil suit for compensation until the commission finishes its work. Job hunts have to be postponed as widows attend the hearings. Crops go untended. Hunger stalks their children.
Today, on the anniversary of the bloodiest event in post-apartheid South Africa, we publish a 24-page supplement about the families of Marikana’s victims. Their testimony shows how these families feel abandoned, failed by the government, by Lonmin and by the Farlam commission.
They face bureaucratic blockages in getting social grants to keep them alive. They are treated as anonymous poor blacks, practically non-people, by Lonmin and the departments of social development, justice and home affairs – which show an utter incomprehension of the psychological and material consequences of losing loved ones so traumatically.
This is a shame that must burden us all.
As must the stuttering, stumbling Farlam commission. It admirably tried to be as inclusive as possible, but that has meant, so far, voluminous and unfocused testimony of questionable relevance, largely from the police. One witness took four weeks to testify, yet eight months into the commission’s work, not one police officer who was present at the massacre has taken the stand.
The commission urgently needs to adopt tighter rules of procedure and push forward more swiftly. After all, its purpose is to examine the proximate and other causes of the deaths at Marikana a year ago, to give the public – and those suffering most directly from its aftershocks – some sense of closure and justice. Too long a delay in that process will only worsen the pain of the families of those who died there, and it will make it look as though the state is weaseling out of taking any responsibility.
The government is already opposing a Constitutional Court application, by the lawyers representing the families of those who died and the miners who were at Marikana on the day of the massacre but survived (to be later arrested and, they claim, tortured), for their fees to be paid by the state. The commission can’t continue without those lawyers, and the state is paying the legal fees of the police, so hiding behind legal technicalities will not make this seem any less unfair. Many of the families of those who died at Marikana are saying they will not return to the commission when it reconvenes because they have lost faith that it will be able to find the truth.
The starkest horror of the massacre is that it was perpetrated by a democratically elected government on its own citizens. It raises questions about how the South African government responds to protest and dissent, echoing as it does apartheid’s massacres.
South Africans must ask how we allowed this to happen – and how we ensure it never happens again. The answer is found in the truth, Mr President, not in prayer.