'Nyet, nyet, nyet': Lonmin grilled at Farlam commission

Lonmin mine has come under fire during questioning at the Marikana commission of inquiry for not doing enough before the violence on August 16 occurred. (Madelene Cronje)

Lonmin mine has come under fire during questioning at the Marikana commission of inquiry for not doing enough before the violence on August 16 occurred. (Madelene Cronje)

Mining giant, Lonmin, has been accused of failing to do everything in its power to avoid violence at its Marikana mine near Rustenburg in the North West, in the lead up to the Marikana massacre on August 16 2012. Lonmin’s chief commercial officer, Albert Jamieson is giving evidence at the Marikana commission of inquiry. 

Evidence leader, advocate Kameshni Pillay, on Tuesday put it to Jamieson that Lonmin had failed in its obligation to pursue every option at its disposal to avoid violence. This included pursuing negotiation options outside of the traditional collective bargaining structures, which Jamieson conceded were not working. This was because Lonmin was faced with a unique situation: large numbers of the striking workers were either not members of the majority union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), or they were not unionised at all. 

Pillay asked whether Lonmin knew that the NUM was open to negotiating outside of the collective bargaining structures if that meant an end to the “strife” at the mine. Jamieson said he was not. 

Pillay put it to Jamieson that Lonmin was aware of the NUM’s attitude, and that the mine had an obligation and a duty to pursue that possibility. Jamieson said he did not agree, because Lonmin had communicated with workers through mine management structures. “There were no further obligation on us to receive any more grounds for ‘appeal’ because we had done what we thought we could do,” he said.

Refusal to meet miners
The commission’s chairperson, retired judge Ian Farlam, pointed out that Lonmin had not met the strikers at the koppie when they had requested to do so.
“After the 10th, didn’t the police tell you that you have a problem and that the strikers wanted to talk to you at the koppie? The police were anxious that you should make some gesture…” Farlam said. He added that Lonmin was not prepared to receive representatives from the striking miners, even though its protocol on unprotected strikes allowed for this. “The attitude of Lonmin was just ‘nyet, ‘nyet, ‘nyet’,” said Farlam. 

Jamieson responded repeatedly on Tuesday that Lonmin had no choice but to stick to the “legally binding” collective bargaining structures already in place. Although Lonmin’s management had internally acknowledged that these structures were not working in this instance, the company had no option but to stick to them, Jamieson said. 

Negotiations
Later on Tuesday afternoon, under cross-examination from advocate Dali Mpofu for the injured and arrested miners, Jamieson conceded that the massacre might not have happened had Lonmin been willing to negotiate outside of existing wage agreements. But in July, it would appear that Lonmin did enter into negotiations outside of the collective bargaining structures, although Jamieson denied it on Tuesday. 

In July 2012, Lonmin had taken a decision to give the Rock Drill Operators (RDOs) an allowance of R750. The workers were demanding increases of R12 500. Jamieson denied that this was the result of a “negotiation”. Instead, he said the company made a “market related adjustment” in the form of the allowance, because other platinum mines paid their rock drillers better. So Lonmin had to conform to market norms or face a mass exodus of RDOs or a strike. 

The commission also heard that many workers were murdered after a radio broadcast on August 12, which conveyed a message from Lonmin that workers had to return to work. It was therefore not safe for miners to go back to work, despite “additional security measures” that Lonmin put in place, Farlam said. But Jamieson conceded that at that time, the mine was aware that there were serious threats to the lives and safety of workers who wanted to return to work.

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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