'Bishop, we are being killed by police'

Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka (Gallo)

Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka (Gallo)

Seoka's was describing his attempt to broker peace between Lonmin's management and its striking workers.

Seoka, the controversial president of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and chairperson of the Benchmarks Foundation said he had been moved to go to Marikana following an interview in which he was asked journalists whether he was aware of the situation unfolding at Lonmin. Seoka said he believed the question to be rooted in the fact that Rustenburg and Marikana fell within the jurisdiction of his Pretoria diocese whose radius took in four provinces. It was after that interview that he made preparations to go to Marikana accompanied by the SACC general secretary Mautji Pataki.

Seoka said he had attempted to gain the workers' trust by approaching the koppie unaccompanied by the police or members of the media. After asking the leadership what they could do to help, they were asked to bring Lonmin CEO Ian Farmer to address the workers.

Speaking in a deliberate yet emotive manner, Seoka told the commission that once they reached Lonmin's head office, they met executive vice president of of human capital and external affairs Barnard Mokwena, Abey Kgotle (Lonmin's executive manager of external affairs) and employee relations senior manager Jomo Kwadi.

Seoka said they were told by the men that Lonmin would not meet the workers as they were criminals and murderers who had killed security guards. Seoka said he responded by saying that miners had told him that they too had lost colleagues during the strike and that fingerpointing would not bring about a solution. After being told that Ian Farmer was ill, the trio escorted the clerics to to provincial police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo who told Seoka and Pataki that the police's main concerned was security. "You can negotiate whatever you want with management, but security is not negotiable," Mbombo said before going to have lunch.  

Seoka told the commission that he believed that it was during this time that the instruction to move in on the miners was given "as the area suddenly became busy… and "helicopters took off in a circling way." He added that Mokwena asked him to tell miners that Lonmin would meet them only if they surrendered their weapons, elected between five and eight representatives and dispersed from the koppie but later changed his mind about this after a man whispered to Mokwena

It was then that Pataki and Seoka decided to leave Marikana, with guilt weighing on them for not returning to the koppie as they promised. It was while driving back to Gauteng that a call he believes to be from Mgcineni Noki (the man in a green blanket) came, sometime between 4 and 4.30pm, asking: "Bishop where are you we are being killed by the police."

Seoka ended his testimony by stating that the guilt was enough to keep him awake for several nights.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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