Nearly two years since it began, the commission has barely dealt with the essence of Lonmin's responsibility .
Last week saw the second anniversary of the events of August 2012 in Marikana, where 44 people were killed in a week.
The Farlam Commission of Inquiry into those events commemorated the anniversary by allowing the victims’ families to speak. One said: “What Lonmin did to us is very painful … I worked in the mines for a period of 30 years, long before the existence of these unions.” Another said: “The life of a person who is working in the mines is cheaper than eating chewing gum.”
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa took centre stage at the Marikana inquiry last week. He was on the board of Lonmin at the time of the massacre. Ramaphosa told the commission he sought police intervention on behalf of Lonmin to prevent further loss of life – 10 people had died in the week before the massacre of August 16 – but had to concede under cross-examination that much more could have been done and deaths avoided. “I deeply regret the deaths of the people who died at Marikana,” he concluded.
There was no doubt that political capital was gained by certain of Ramaphosa’s cross-examiners, who kept pushing for an admission of guilt from him, and also recommended he be charged. But the broader question remains: What is the responsibility of corporations such as Lonmin for the conditions under which miners continue to work? An answer to that query requires more than the butting of heads between the deputy president and critics of the government.
When the commission was launched, its terms of reference raised hopes it would be a well-resourced, independent body that would help to promote a transparent and national debate about how to restructure the mining sector so that mining could be set free from the migrant labour system and workers could be adequately rewarded for the precarious work they do.
It was only after the deaths at Marikana that South Africa began to gain some insight into the heart of the mining darkness, on which no light was shed even as we proclaimed two decades of democracy.
The commission’s very first term of reference mandated an examination of the conduct of Lonmin, including its policy, procedure, practices and conduct on employees and organised labour. Then followed a mandate to investigate the conduct of the police.
For reasons that need explanation, its chair, retired judge Ian Farlam, decided that the inquiry would be divided into phases one and two, with the former exclusively devoted to the conduct of the police.
Yet, nearly two years since it began, the commission has barely dealt with the essence of Lonmin’s scheme of mining or its responsibility for the context in which this tragedy occurred. It may be politically attractive to cross-examine Ramaphosa, but, to date, the public has heard nothing from Lonmin’s key executive personnel – the people who actually run the company’s activities.
When will the commission hear this evidence? When will it interrogate the relevant documentation to find out how Lonmin and other mining corporations run the mining sector and why, 20 years into demo-cracy, we still have the same mining system?
The commission’s terms of reference have now been extended, but only to September. It is unlikely that there will be time for a comprehensive investigation of the second phase to take place.
Hopefully, the mountains of evidence the commission has acquired will, at the very least, allow it to provide South Africa with a comprehensive and credible report on the police’s conduct. There is expert evidence to come, and other witnesses who must still be heard in what is now a period of under six weeks.
There have been mutterings about the commission’s leisurely pace. It enjoys at least two lengthy tea breaks a day, apart from a luncheon adjournment, it does not sit on Wednesdays or for the full day on Friday. This is regrettable. It now appears unlikely that all the issues before the commission, in particular the broader questions of mining in South Africa, will be comprehensively analysed.
The commission and the legal teams are well resourced, as shown by the battery of distinguished evidence leaders. It is to be hoped, then, that the commission’s final report will do justice to these resources and not disappoint the legitimate expectations imposed on it. It needs to uncover the direct reasons for the deaths of those strikers.
Only then will victims and families be able to start the long process of court action against those who may be held responsible. That is hardly justice.