/ 27 August 2012

‘Hijacker’ Malema champions jailed Lonmin miners

Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema addresses Lonmin miners.
Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema addresses Lonmin miners.

After turning last week's memorial service in Marikana – held for the 34 miners who were killed in a clash with police earlier this month –  into a de facto political rally slamming government,  the expelled ANC Youth League leader will this week formally begin the legal challenge to force the release of more than 200 miners who were jailed following the incident.

"We must not be apologetic about our role in this matter," Floyd Shivambu, Malema's spokesperson told the Mail & Guardian. "Our work is not finished in assisting the people who were affected by this tragedy, brought upon them by forces they can't control."

Shivambu said Malema and other "young leaders of the ANC" were forming a team of attorneys and advocates who will fight for the workers' release.

The City Press reported on Sunday that the incarcerated miners had allegedly been assaulted and tortured by police officials while awaiting trial.

"The Friends of the Youth League will ensure these people are treated fairly as they have done nothing wrong," he said.

Shivambu said Malema would also be supporting striking miners who continued stay away from work.

"None of them should have to go back to work until government has ensured they receive an increase in salary to R12 500. And that should not only be for them but all mine workers around the country," he added.

In spite of the defiance of Malema and his allies, government has vowed it will continue its efforts to "normalise" the situation at Lonmin.  

"We are not retreating in any way," Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane's spokesperson, Harold Maloka, told the M&G.

"Events at the memorial service are not hampering our efforts and our work continues unabated."

Chabane said the government's interministerial task team, appointed by President Jacob Zuma to deal with the crisis, would remain in Marikana until instructed to do otherwise.

Social workers are continuing to work with grief stricken families affected by the shooting, while representatives from the department of health are assisting in pathology reports on the deceased, and a state-driven interventions are under way, Chabane said.

"We have the final funeral planned for September 8, and only then will we be looking at possibly leaving the area," he added.

Meanwhile, the ANC has also lambasted Malema's actions at the mine.

"Marikana was taken over and hijacked. Out of it came counter-revolutionaries to undermine our movement," ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told a Young Communist League public lecture in Katlehong, Ekurhuleni.

Mantashe said it was up to the tripartite alliance to deal with the matter effectively to ensure it could not be used for cheap politicking.

President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), S'dumo Dlamini, echoed Mantashe's sentiment, calling on Malema to "stop walking" on the bodies of the dead mineworkers,

"For the first time, Cosatu is issuing a direct warning to Malema to stop using the Lonmin mine tragedy for his personal agenda," Dlamini told the same gathering.

Although this could be construed as a closing of ranks and rallying behind Zuma in an attempt to silence Malema, the president can expect to be faced stern criticism from his detractors within the ruling party.

The ANC's national executive committee meeting scheduled for Monday is expected to be dominated by issues relating to the shooting, and Zuma could be called to explain why the tragedy occurred.

Operations at the mine are also not expected to run at optimum capacity for the foreseeable future, as many miners – among them even some not originally involved in industrial action – are refusing to return to their posts.

"We will not return to work until Lonmin listen to us. People have died and more could yet die if they don't speak to us," Lonmin workers' representative Tholakele Dlanga told the M&G.

Dlanga said Lonmin should offer a sign of good faith and increase their salaries in light of the tragic shooting.

But it would seem this is not going to happen.

"At this time, we're not pointing fingers," Simon Scott, the acting chief executive of Lonmin told CNN last week.

"[But] what we are saying is: Let's get back to work; let's get our operations running smoothly and then if there is blame to be apportion then let's do that at a later stage."