Amcu won't accept responsibility for security guard deaths

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa has refused to accept responsibility for the deaths of Lonmin security guards at the hands of striking workers. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa has refused to accept responsibility for the deaths of Lonmin security guards at the hands of striking workers. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa refused to accept responsibility for the deaths of Lonmin security guards at the hands of striking workers, some of whom belonged to his union.

During cross-examination by legal counsel for the deceased security guards Tshepiso Ramphele at the Farlam commission, Mathunjwa said, "We regret the loss of life but we can’t take responsibility because this was the workers' strike, not the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union's strike. As a union you can’t divorce yourself [from the actions of your members], but it doesn’t mean you agree with them."

Mathunjwa added that as Amcu they spoke against the violent acts committed by the strikers despite not having the security to ensure that their lives would not be endangered in the process. He said the union had set up a trust fund for the benefit of the families of the deceased regardless of their union affiliation.

Mathunjwa faced a succession of lawyers on Tuesday, some of whom seemed to fumble through their questions, while others seemed to cross-examine him for the purpose of upholding alliances.

In the latter group, advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza (representing some of the estranged families), spent much of the morning seemingly correcting what could be interpreted as damaging aspects of a print article chronicling the rise of Amcu, perhaps to show a pattern of abuse of power in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Mathunjwa, a former chairperson of the local branch of the union while employed at Douglas Colliery, was expelled from the organisation for leading an apparently unprotected strike in which the mine's underground section was occupied for 10 days. When the dust settled, Mathunjwa’s membership was terminated without a fair hearing, as he refused to sit in a hearing chaired by Gwede Mantashe, with whom he had clashed previously.

Ntsebeza also asked Mathunjwa questions whose purpose was to contextualise the carrying of “traditional weapons” cultural settings, with the aim to present the workers less dangerous than how they were portrayed by other legal teams. At some point he likened the singing of “Le Num sizoyibulala kanjani” to the behaviour of fans at the football stadium.

Others who sought to cross-examine Mathunjwa, like Takalani Masevhe, who represents the family of Tsietsi Monene, one of the slain policemen, seemed content to cover ground already extensively dealt with by the other lawyers. Masevhe’s main argument was that Mathunjwa acted irresponsibly by not warning the police that a “looming threat was coming” after one of the workers told his gathered colleague that “they would finish the police off”.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union legal counsel Louis Gumbi did not fare much better, repeatedly asking Mathunjwa whether he set up meetings and released press statement to condemn the episodic incidents of violence in the period leading up to August 16. Mathunjwa responded by saying that he had tried to get management to meet with all the stakeholders and that he did call a press conference on August 14 once he had all the information relating to the incidents.

Mathunjwa’s cross-examination by advocate Dali Mpofu, representing the injured and formerly arrested miners, will continue next week.

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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