/ 18 August 2012

Malema at Marikana: ‘Many will die’

Addressing Lonmin miners
Addressing Lonmin miners

Julius Malema wasn't pulling punches, when he spoke to several thousand Marikana mineworkers on Saturday. President Jacob Zuma should step down, he said, as should Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

ANC National Executive Committee member Cyril Ramaphosa came in for a drubbing as well – with the implication that he was partially responsible for the deaths of the strikers killed this week.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were sellouts, he said, and police had no excuse for using live ammunition.

And he was clear on what should happen next.

"You must never retreat, even in the face of death," he told the gathering, not far from the koppie where 34 had died only days before.

"Many people will die as we struggle for economic freedom." He called on other miners, especially in the surrounding area, to join in solidarity strikes (warning that they could be the next to die if they don't) and told the Marikana group that their calls for wage increases from around R5 000 a month to R12 500, were fully legitimate.

And although he did not endorse new union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), in so many words, he had nothing but scorn for the NUM.

"NUM is a former union… From a militant union… We want leaders who will not sell you out," Malema said.

Anti-Zuma politicking
Police, Malema said, should not have had automatic weapons on the scene of the protest on Thursday afternoon, when 34 people were killed.

And even if strikers did fire at the police first, the police should not have fired back.

He dismissed outright any suggestion that the police had acted in self-defence and had reason to fear the armed workers, saying the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) had marched with similar weapons for years without getting shot.

But it was to Jacob Zuma that he returned time and time again. Zuma, Malema said, had told police to use maximum force. "From today, when asked 'who is your president', you must say 'I don't have a president'," he urged the group.

The speech was well received, even though Malema spoke mostly in English, and members of the crowd subsequently said they largely agreed with his sentiments, though some were weary of his anti-Zuma stance as politicking.

Some in the crowd were armed with pangas and spears, and a police helicopter kept a close eye on proceedings initially, but police did not intervene, apart from sending a small delegation to speak to Malema.

Neither Malema nor the police would say what had been discussed, but Malema later told the crowd that he had told the police to stay away because they were not needed.

After the speech, a group of men moved towards the koppie, that has been at the centre of events all week, but soon dispersed.

A group of women gathered at a nearby crossroads to face off to police guarding the Lonmin mine, and demand the release of strikers still being held in custody.

"These police must give us back our men," said one, who declined to give her name. "They're keeping our people in prison so they can't come back and demand their rights."

The miners intend to meet again on Monday, to discuss the strike.