/ 26 October 2012

Arrests rebound on Marikana commission

Thumeka Magwangqana has witnessed arrests and says she does not feel safe.
Thumeka Magwangqana has witnessed arrests and says she does not feel safe.

As well as stop them from testifying. A fifth witness was arrested on Thursday.

The arrests on Tuesday night at Majakaneng near Bapong in North West come in a week during which police at the commission, accor-ding to the opening statement by the police's legal representative, Ishmael Semenya, conceded the use of "disproportionate force" in some instances. During cross-examination, the police also seemed determined to reveal as little as possible of their records of the killings of August 16 and related events.

Advocate Dali Mpofu's explicit declamation of a "toxic relationship" between the state and business during his opening statement seemed to go beyond the ambit of the commission and perhaps characterised life at Marikana since the six-week strike.

The remarks by Mpofu, who is representing injured and arrested miners, were made in reference to emails between Lonmin shareholder Cyril Ramaphosa, the police, the mineral resources minister and Lonmin bosses. In one email, Ramaphosa called for "concomitant action" to deal with miners whose actions he called "dastardly criminal". His call for action came after 10 people had already died in strike-related violence and a day before the August 16 killings.  

Tuesday night's arrests brings the total number of those arrested in connection with a number of "mysterious murders" that have taken place at Marikana since August 16 to at least 10. Some of those arrested were apprehended as they emerged from their shifts at Lonmin's shafts. Those arrested on Tuesday are Zamikhaya Ndude, Sithembele Sohadi, Loyiso Mtsheketshe and Anele Kola. Of the earlier arrests only one suspect, Lennox Mzimasa, has received bail so far.

Remanded in custody
Last week prominent strike leader Xolani Nzuza was arrested. Two suspects arrested earlier last week, Zenzile Nxenye and Sizakele Kwaziwa, appeared in the Rustenburg Magistrate's Court and were remanded in custody until December 5 by magistrate Carnel Badenhorst, apparently for their own safety.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian last week, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said he wanted the suspects to be denied bail because they were a danger to society and because of the lawlessness in and around Rustenburg.

NUM branch secretary Daluvuyo Bongo was gunned down at his home in Marikana on October 5. He was expected to testify before the commission. Other union representatives, and in some cases their family members, have been murdered since the strike ended.

Increasingly, workers who took part in the Lonmin strike are starting to frame events since August 16 as an co-ordinated assault by the NUM, police, Lonmin and government in general. During a meeting held to discuss ways of dealing with the arrests a worker claimed it was clear that the NUM "had the machinery of the state behind it". Another said that although people were equal in God's eyes, mine workers were unequal in the eyes of the government they had voted into power.

The police's refusal to detail the exact cases in connection with which the workers are being arrested only fuels this speculation.

Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, spokesperson for the North West police, said the four men were arrested on Tuesday for the series of "mysterious murders" that had taken place in Marikana since the August 16 massacre. He said the police were doing a routine vehicle control point search and "the suspects that we needed were in this vehicle … We don't want to come out with specific murders, because then it gives the opportunities for others involved to flee," Ngubane said.

But witnesses said the vehicle was tailed and monitored after leaving the Rustenburg Civic Centre on Tuesday, following the commission's adjournment.

A reliable indicator of the levels of paranoia at Wonderkop is the fact that, of all the people who witnessed and recounted the incident only one was prepared to go on record – and only because, as a woman, she felt somewhat removed from the sights trained on some of the Lonmin workers since their strike, she said.

"It's not that I feel safe," said community activist Thumeka Magwangqana in a Wonderkop shack. "If the workers are saying they're not safe, I too, as someone who works among them, am not safe, even though I'm not really privy to their conversation and plans."

She was one of four women who witnessed the arrests. She said she was with the group. They were on their way back from dropping off people at Majakaneng near Bapong when a police officer stopped their vehicle.

As they stopped, police Nyalas pulled up in front of and behind the  vehicle, along with other unmarked vehicles.

"More police appeared and they started banging on the windows and ordering us out. We first stayed inside as women, but then they also ordered us out as well. They ordered us to lie face down like the others, but then decided that we should sit instead but face away. They took our phones while they were searching the men and they kept asking someone to tell them who to take."

A Lonmin employee who witnessed Tuesday's arrests, but wanted to remain anonymous, said: "I think they are forcing us to strike so that we don't get this money we've been fighting for."

Teboho Mosikili, a Socioeconomic Rights Institute of South Africa attorney, said the arrests, allegedly "in the presence of police officers who had been present at the commission", had affected the commission's integrity. "That the police are making arrests before the commission has reached its findings makes this whole process redundant. No policemen have been arrested since the August 16 massacre."

The institute has written to the police's legal representatives asking that no further arrest be made in relation to "charges that may arise in connection with the events under investigation by the commission, or of persons travelling to, from, or attending the commission".

Taking instructions from the four men who have been arrested, the institute is also demanding that they be released. "Should we not receive an undertaking in the above terms by the time the commission recommences its work on Monday October 29 2012, [we] will apply for a postponement of the commission until such time as we receive these undertakings," the institute said in a statement. "The institute is currently taking instructions from our clients on whether they are prepared to continue to participate in the commission should such a postponement be refused."

Commission spokesperson Kevin Malunga said: "Ructions of this nature involving the various parties that fall under the terms of reference of the commission were expected",  especially "when their [the various parties'] interests appear to be affected".

He added that there was a need for a "delicate balancing act" by the police to ensure that law enforcement continued, but that "it must not be used to undermine the commission's work".

Malunga said the commission had yet to receive the institute's formal written submissions regarding the arrests, but the commissioners "would apply their minds to the matter" as soon as they did.