The deputy president’s grilling about the part he played in the Lonmin tragedy was interrupted by a crowd calling him a bloody-handed killer.
Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s testimony at the Farlam Commission was interrupted by a group of people chanting “blood on his hands”.
Most members of the group were part of the Marikana Support Campaign, and wore T-shirts with a picture of a buffalo’s head with the wording “McCyril, the killer” on the front. Other T-shirts said “Buffalo head killed people in Marikana”, in reference to Ramaphosa’s R18-million bid for a buffalo at an auction a mere month after the Marikana massacre. Ramaphosa lost the bid, but came under fire for the bid, in light of the low wages of Lonmin workers.
Ramaphosa was a shareholder and a nonexecutive director of Lonmin in August 2012 at the time that Lonmin miners embarked on an unprotected strike. He has been accused of using his position to politically influence the police and mineral resources ministers to take action during the strike.
The commission had to adjourn until the crowd had been silenced by advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the injured and arrested miners. Despite this, there were still shouts calling for Ramaphosa to resign as deputy president and criticising him for allowing himself to be elected despite his involvement at Marikana at the time of the massacre. On August 16 2012, 34 miners were fatally shot by police and over 70 injured.
Ramaphosa, who was surrounded by at least 10 bodyguards, did not leave the chamber and did not seem too perturbed by the chanting.
The commission’s chair, retired judge Ian Farlam, reprimanded the rowdy audience on his return to the chamber. “It’s important for this commission to get to the truth of what happened at Marikana … It’s important that this witness give his evidence in chief … those who are interrupting the proceedings are depriving us of the full opportunity to hear that cross-examination,” said Farlam. Farlam threatened to kick people out of the chamber should they interrupt proceedings again.
Social and living conditions
Ramaphosa was cross-examined extensively about the social and living conditions of mineworkers. Advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi, representing the legal resources centre, referred to an article Ramaphosa wrote in 2011, where he attributed labour instability to mining companies’ inability to address social conditions.
Ramaphosa said that he still feels the same: “We are dealing here with the legacy of colonialism and apartheid ... [and] dealing with the migrant labour system which is deeply embedded in our country … I still hold the view that collective action needs to be taken to rid our country of this inhumane system.”
Ramaphosa pointed out that one of the unintended consequences of his campaigning to bring an end to the migrant labour system when he was general secretary National Union of Mineworkers (The NUM) in the 1980s, was that miners are now paid a living-out allowance and take inferior accommodation in order to save their income.
Ngcukaitobi then questioned Ramaphosa on Lonmin’s failure to execute their social and labour plan, which aimed to build 5500 houses between 2006 and 2011. Ramaphosa was unaware that by 2009 only three houses had been built.
Ramaphosa chaired Lonmin’s transformation committee from 2010. He said the reasons Lonmin gave him in 2010 for wanting to abort the project were threefold. “Local government needed to release the land. They also needed an uptake; uptake from workers was minimal. This type of project faced a number of challenges and restraints and financial resources was one of them,” he maintained.
However, Ngcukaitobi pointed out that it was only between 2008 and 2009 that Lonmin experienced a drop in their revenue. Before and after this time period the company saw a growth in revenue. Ngcukaitobi added that by 2009 there were 230 stands available to construct on.
But Ramaphosa excused Lonmin’s inaction in this regard by saying that one would need to look at how Lonmin spent their earnings. He added that it fell in the realms of “under performance and under achievement.”
Ramaphosa also added that he had reservations with the proposed housing system, which he says, had a lack of rental opportunities. “Because all this was for purchasing, workers then had to interact with financial institutions and guarantees. At that level I did raise that there needs to be another option for rental housing.” He pointed out that miners would have had to use the living-out allowance to buy the houses.
Although Ramaphosa agreed that companies have a responsibility towards the living conditions of their workers, he said that as a non-executive director, he relied on the executive managers to implement decisions and make sure things happen. “I am not happy with this part of the mining industry. This is not a happy area where the mining industry can be proud of its achievement,” Ramaphosa said.
Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, who represents the families of the deceased miners, later highlighted Ramaphosa’s successes as a negotiator and mediator, most notably in the final years of apartheid. Ntsebeza then asked why, despite his experience, did Ramaphosa not engage with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) when he learned of the strike at Lonmin.
“You were uniquely place to influence all the parties and stakeholders to reach an amicable solution,” Ntsebeza told Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa defended himself, saying that he had not previously dealt with Amcu leaders and did not have their contact details.
He later added that it was a “perfect storm” that had evolved at the mine and that as a non-executive board member it was not his role to be involved in the daily management of the company. “Non-executive directors never get involved in wage negotiations. The fact that I was general secretary of the NUM has nothing to do with this,” Ramaphosa maintained.
But when Ntsebeza put it to Ramaphosa that there was no law stopping him from getting involved, he agreed.
“If you had decided to do something, there was nothing that could’ve stopped you from doing so,” Ntsebeza put to the witness.
Ramaphosa responded, “I should be flattered by the importance and influence that you think I had in this issue. When one is the non-executive director of the company, you deal with issues as they are presented to you by the executive members.”
Ntsebeza ended his cross-examination with a bombshell, asking Ramaphosa why his legal team is not representative of his empowerment ideals. Ramaphosa’s advocate is David Unterhalter and the rest of his legal team also consisted of white people. Ramaphosa was clearly caught off guard by Ntsebeza’s remark and responded, “Message understood.”
Ramaphosa continues his testimony at the commission on Tuesday.