National

Miners tell 'McCyril' to voetsek

Gabi Falanga

Cyril Ramaphosa is getting a taste of the rough and tumble he used to dish out as union leader.

A protester at the Marikana commission questions the deputy president's role in the deaths of miners on August 16 2012. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Back in the dark days of apartheid South Africa in the early 1980s when Cyril Ramaphosa founded the powerful National Union of Mineworkers, he was the one staring down the bosses. This week the roles were reversed. And it was more than staring happening at the Marikana commission in Centurion.

“Blood on his hands,” heckled angry mineworkers when the deputy president delivered his testimony at the commission on Monday.

Security at the commission was at an all-time high during Ramaphosa’s testimony, with a significant police presence that included mounted police, police Nyalas (armoured cars) and barbed wire.

Ramaphosa was a shareholder and a nonexecutive director of Lonmin in August 2012, when the Lonmin miners embarked on an unprotected strike. He has been accused of using his position to exert political influence on the ministers of police and mineral resources to take action during the strike.

The mineworkers wore T-shirts depicting a buffalo head with the wording “McCyril the Killer” on the front, in reference to Ramaphosa’s R18-million bid for a buffalo at an auction a mere month after the Marikana massacre and his ownership of the McDonald’s fast food franchise in South Africa.

Ramaphosa lost the buffalo bid, but came under fire for it in light of the low wages earned by Lonmin workers.

Interrupted apology
As Ramaphosa’s testimony was nearing its end on Tuesday, he apologised for the events at Marikana where 44 people died.

“I deeply regret the deaths of all the people who died at Marikana,” he said, but was again interrupted by the miners. “This man killed him; he killed them. He is a sellout, this man, for profit,” they shouted.

After being kicked out of the chamber, the group congregated outside the commission, singing songs about capitalists and shouting: “Voetsek, man; fokof, man!”

Mineworkers wearing green Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union T-shirts told the Mail & Guardian that the protest was not organised by the union.

“We could hear Ramaphosa was not telling the truth,” said miner Siphete Patsha. “He doesn’t answer what he’s being asked, even though he wrote the email instructing people to be killed. People do that because they see he doesn’t answer questions, especially about the email he sent,” he said.

He was referring to Ramaphosa’s email and telephonic communication with the ministers of police and mineral resources at the time, and with Lonmin management.

International trial
During Ramaphosa’s testimony, Patsha sat next to advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the injured and arrested miners. Mpofu told Ramaphosa that Patsha and the other injured miners want him to be charged in the international courts.

Proceedings became heated a number of times as Ramaphosa and Mpofu clashed horns, in what some claim was a political battle between the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

One notable scuffle was when Ramaphosa tried to turn Mpofu’s conflict of interest argument on its head. Ramaphosa accused Mpofu of having asked him to speak to the president to obtain his signature for his senior counsel silks.

Another was when Mpofu accused Ramaphosa of being in a “cesspool of incestuous relationships” regarding his ties to government, Lonmin and the National Union of Mineworkers. Both Ramaphosa and his legal representative, advocate David Unterhalter, took exception to Mpofu’s choice of words.

Ramaphosa and Mpofu go a long way back. They met in 1983 at East Rand Gold Mining. Both were involved in the ANC’s 2011 disciplinary appeal hearings of EFF leader Julius Malema: Mpofu – now an EFF member – represented Malema; Ramaphosa presided over the matter.

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