Zuma: Police should've been more firm ahead of Marikana

President Jacob Zuma. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

According to President Jacob Zuma, fewer miners would have died at Marikana if the police had been allowed to be "more firm" in the days leading up to the 2012 massacre.

Addressing a group of leaders from the Afrikaans community at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria on Wednesday night, Zuma described the massacre as an "unfortunate incident" that happened in spite of South Africa's "very good collective bargaining framework".

His audience consisted of representatives from various sectors, including agriculture, sport and business. The Afrikaans Language and Culture Association?, or ATKV, and the Afrikanerbond were among the represented organisations. The Broederbond and Solidarity declined the invitation.

On the sidelines of the event, organisers were careful not to describe the event as a meeting of the Afrikaner community, but a senior ANC official described it as an audience of "primarily Afrikaners, but from all walks of life".

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and former National Party member Roelf Meyer were initially invited to speak at the event to discuss progress made in the country's 20 years of democracy.
But Ramaphosa was suddenly called away on matters relating to South Sudan, and Meyer was similarly called away to an urgent meeting.

Zuma was then asked to step in at the last minute, according to the event's organisers.

He arrived in full ANC regalia, fresh from a campaign event in Mpumalanga.

"I hope you will excuse what I'm wearing," he said, explaining that this was "not a campaign event", but that he had not had time to change clothes between events.

Land reform
Zuma, flanked by ministers and deputy ministers, engaged with the audience on a variety of issues, mainly related to land reform.

But it was on the issue of strikes that Zuma strayed from the topic at hand, opening up on Marikana and venturing an assessment of what happened on August 16 2012.

Ten people were killed in the preceding week, while 34 miners were killed on August 16 and over 70 more injured. Zuma established the Marikana commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances leading up to the killings.

"You had a situation where workers were armed to the teeth, and they were killing their colleagues. Two security guards were also killed [in the preceding week].

"I think if the police had been more firm that week, so many miners would not have died that day [August 16]," Zuma said.

'Like the apartheid police'
But Zuma said the police could not always be firm because they were criticised for doing so.

"When the police are firm, people say they are like the apartheid police and so on. So they have to be very careful," he said.

Zuma also blamed Lonmin mine and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) for what happened at Marikana.

"The mine is also to blame for what happened, because they went back on their agreement. They had an agreement whereby miners would get increases, but then they went back and only gave increases to some workers.

"Then you had the formation of a new union, Amcu. As a person who comes from the unions, I can tell you with absolute certainty, you can't call a strike at the drop of a hat. When you organise a strike you must make absolutely sure that people are not going to lose their jobs," he said. 

Zuma said it was understandable that people were concerned about the platinum belt, "which was once booming but is not anymore".

"But I'm sure we'll get it right one day," he said. 

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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