/ 22 August 2012

Zuma on Lonmin: Government didn’t plan to kill anyone

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa

"The inquiry I have instituted will get to the bottom of what happened here … Government did not plan to have anyone killed," Zuma said on Wednesday afternoon at the company's Marikana operations.

Last week 34 people were killed and 78 were wounded in a shootout between police and miners. The majority of those killed are understood to have been involved in illegal industrial action at the mine after rock drillers affiliated to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) demanded their monthly salary of R4 000 be increased to R12 500.

The president ordered an inquiry into the incident earlier this week. Zuma listened attentively as about 3 000 workers, who gathered to listen to the president, shouted "Phansi amaphoyisa phansi! [down with the police]" when he arrived at the mine on Wednesday afternoon.

"We will not accept the excuses of Lonmin. We are waiting for a caucus with them. They must listen," Tholakele Dlang, a representative of the workers and a rockdriller, said.

"The police shot our people because nobody would listen. Now is time for them to listen," he said.

Proceedings were halted for a short while because the PA system stopped working. A disgruntled worker clicked his tongue, saying: "Eskom!"

Once the system was up and running again, another representative, identified only as Xolani, recounted the events of the shooting to Zuma. Xolani relayed the sequence of events, and as he was about to explain how the workers got shot, he spotted a police officer in the crowd.

"I see a policeman. Get him out. I won't talk with him here," he said.

Once the officer left, Xolani continued. "We were lying down and we heard shooting," he said as a colleague emptied a packet of spent bullet casings on the ground.

"We go underground and sweat. We need money. We need our R12 500." Workers gave a round of applause as Xolani mentioned expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.

"He came. He listened. He cares," Xolani said.

Malema went to visit the miners at the site on Saturday, telling them they should die for their cause. He also laid murder charges against the South African Police Service on Tuesday.

Workers shouted: "Qcina umsebenzi! QCINA! Asijiki! Sifuna R12 500! [Strength to the workers! We're not budging! We want R12 500]", before the president assured them he would take their concerns to Lonmin's management.

Once Zuma left, the strikers scrambled and fought for water that was made available to them.

On Tuesday, MPs demanded the judicial commission of inquiry set up to investigate the incident find out who authorised the police's use of live ammunition against the miners.

In a fiery parliamentary debate on Tuesday about the Lonmin platinum mine tragedy, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa emphasised the responsibilities that the Constitution imposes on citizens, but opposition MPs said the Constitution has been breached and whoever gave the instruction to the police to use live ammunition should be held accountable for the deaths of 34 striking workers.

Mthethwa said last Thursday's event could have been avoided "if all of us had adhered to the noble principles of our Constitution".