Remembering Marikana: Three years on

Striking miners gathered on the koppie at Marikana in August 2012. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Striking miners gathered on the koppie at Marikana in August 2012. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

August 16 marks three years since the Marikana massacre, where the police shot down 34 striking miners. Ten people were killed in the preceding days. 

Friday August 10
A day before, workers at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana in North West had resolved that they would not involve the unions, this time. About 3 000 miners, mostly rock drillers, went on strike.

Well before this, according to the heads of argument submitted by the evidence leaders at the commission of inquiry chaired by judge Ian Farlam, as early as August 5 or August 6, workers had agreed that the demand would be a salary of R12 500 per month. By August 10, this amount was agreed to be non-negotiable. 

Workers decided that on August 10 they would not go to work. Instead, they would meet at the Wonderkop stadium. 

Lonmin records presented to the commission show that the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) was not associated with the strike at this stage. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had distanced itself from the strike. 

The workers marched to Lonmin’s offices at about 8am. Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo, provincial commissioner of North West was alerted. Lonmin was assured that the police would be present. Lonmin management met urgently and decided not to accept the workers’ memorandum because the mine would not negotiate outside of established bargaining structures. These structures included the unions, which the workers had rejected. Later, the workers dispersed and agreed to meet at the stadium the following day. Two workers on their way to work were injured that night as reports of intimidation flooded in. Those who wanted to report for duty were confronted.

That evening, another two people from a group of marchers were injured as Lonmin security guards fired rubber bullets into the crowd. On miner was shot in the leg. Another was shot in the head. Two cases of attempted murder were opened at the police station.

Saturday August 11
In the early hours of August 11, a senior security officer at Lonmin, Riaan Beukes, received a call from NUM members. They told him they were going to ask workers to go back to work and asked Beukes to do the same inside the hostels.

And so early that morning, NUM members used a loud-hailer to tell workers that NUM did not endorse the strike and that they should return to work. At 8am, according to the Farlam report, Lonmin management was briefed on reports that workers returning to work had been intimidated at four shafts. Vusimuzi Mabuyakhulu was among the protesters who gathered at the Wonderkop stadium later that morning. There they were told that “some people” had been shot by NUM members, allegedly driving around in a Lonmin-owned bakkie.

There were reports that some workers had been forced to return to work at gunpoint. 

Workers at the koppie decided to go to the NUM offices to find out why the NUM did not want discussions with Lonmin, according to Mabuyakhulu’s evidence-in-chief at the commission. All 2 000 to 3 000 workers marched to the NUM offices and Mabuyakhulu was unable to tell the commission why a small representative group did no go instead. 

At about 9.30am, Lonmin security guards reported hearing the singing and chanting crowd moving towards the NUM offices. Reports surfaced that the marching crowd intended to burn down the offices. 

NUM employees were advised to leave their offices. Two Lonmin security officers, Elias Dibakoane and Julius Motlogelwa, arrived at the NUM offices to warn the union members. They told the NUM employees that the marchers were carrying weapons, although the commission heard that the marchers carried only knobkerries and sticks. 

The NUM employees were told that the marchers wanted to burn down their offices.  Some employees left and about 20 people stayed. According to testimony that the Farlam commission received, the two Lonmin guards were afraid and, believing that they could not protect the office, left and walked towards the Wonderkop stadium. 

Witnesses testified that things happened extremely fast from then on. A confrontation, stone throwing, aggressive slogans chanted and then, three gunshots. 

Strikers ran. NUM employees gave chase, afraid their opponents would regroup and attack again. Another clash occurred, further away from the office. Two more “loud sounds”, which a witness thought was gunfire. Bongani Ngema and Mabuyakhulu were shot during the mayhem, allegedly by NUM members. Mabuyakhulu recalled being beaten until a blow to the back of his head rendered him unconscious.

Evidence of who attacked Mabuyakhulu is apparently contained on an SAPS hard drive and Farlam recommended that this be investigated to see if the perpetrators could be identified. While rumours that the Amcu marchers had violent intentions were “widespread”, Amcu told the commission that the march was intended to be peaceful. But the commission agreed with a submission by the evidence leaders: “It is probable that the protesters who descended on the NUM office did so with violent intent.” This was likely because the NUM had “actively assisted” workers to go back to work, which was aimed at breaking the strike.

Rumours that Amcu members had been attacked the previous evening inflamed the situation. 

There was a shopkeeper who told the commission he had a “rush” of people buying pangas on the morning of the 11th. The shopkeeper is named in the report, but the Mail & Guardian understands his life has been threatened and he will name anonymous here.  The timing of this “rush” is disputed and it matters because if the rush happened before the march to the NUM offices, it adds weight to the assertion that the Amcu marchers were armed. But the commission found that the buying of weapons could not have happened before the Amcu march. The confrontation between the unions probably happened shortly before the march began. 

As for the NUM, “it is not disputed” that the NUM members shot at the Amcu members. The NUM’s lawyers admitted as much at the commission, but said that this was in defence of the office. The NUM submitted that the shooting saved the lives of those who remained at the office. But the commission does not know exactly who pulled the trigger.

Sunday August 12
This is the day that the miners and Lonmin security clashed, twice. Dewald Louw of Lonmin security reported for duty at 5am. Louw and another security officer, Sydney Mogola, went to the stadium and took over from the nightshift. An hour later, Louw was told that workers were gathering at one of the hostels. “This is a decoy,” Mogola said. Realising that another hostel, the Wonderkop Hostel, was unguarded, Louw and Mogola moved on. Now the guards received news that a crowd had gathered at the koppie and that the miners were moving towards the Wonderkop Hostel. Mogola was dropped off elsewhere while Louw and Martin Vorster, who had since joined him, moved to the Wonderkop stadium. 

The crowd formed a crescent shape around them, according to Louw. He and Vorster got out of their vehicle and pointed their shotguns at the miners. Louw called for backup. The crowd retreated, with the approximately 1 000 miners crouching down on the ground. And then one striker threw a rock at the two security officers. Vorster opened fire and the miners charged forward. Louw says he was struck with a knobkerrie, while Vorster was struck by a panga. The two escaped in their vehicle and it was badly damaged during the getaway.

Two more security officers, Frans Mabelane and Hassan Fundi, were trapped inside the Wonderkop Hostel. In the midst of the chaos, the security officers believed the strikers at the hostel were going to the NUM offices to seek revenge for what had happened on August 11. The security officers were told to use their shotguns to stop the strikers. They shot at the strikers before running to their vehicles to retreat. A security officer told the commission that once he and other officers had reached safety, they realised that Mabelane and Fundi had not escaped.

They later learned that Mabelane and Fundi were dead, and that their shotguns had been stolen and their vehicles set alight. The commission heard that it was on Mabelane’s instruction that the officers fired at the miners, despite concerns by the other security officers that they did not have enough equipment for such an operation. Indeed, the rubber bullets initially did not deter the crowd.

Additional witnesses told the commission they saw the crowd surround Mabelane and Fundi’s vehicles. The Lonmin control room could not make contact with Mabelane or Fundi. The Farlam report says “it appears to be common cause that the strikers were responsible for the deaths of Mabelane and Fundi”.  Fundi was hacked to death, his chin and tongue slashed.      

A mine supervisor, Thapelo Mabebe, was stabbed to death near a shaft that day. During the confrontations that followed, at least nine vehicles were burned and two more men, possibly security employees, were attacked.

The Farlam report said: “This incident is an unprovoked attack on unarmed persons at K4 shaft who were simply going about their business. The only reason for the attack appears to be to enforce the strike with intimidation. The commission condemns this attack in the strongest terms.”

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans


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