Farlam: Lonmin failed to ‘think outside the box’

Lonmin’s former head of human capital, Barnard Mokwena, on Monday admitted that the 2012 strike, which resulted in the deaths of 34 miners at Marikana, called for negotiation mechanisms outside of the existing norms. 

But he did not employ these at the time. Nor did he consider negotiating with the miners outside of existing collective bargaining mechanisms, even though these mechanisms had already failed. 

“You didn’t do what you needed to do. Even when 10 bodies were the evidence of what the dispute has resulted in,” said advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, counsel for the families of the deceased miners. 

In an impassioned round of cross-examination on Monday afternoon Ntsebeza told Mokwena that his “technocratic” approach to the 2012 strike was one of the reasons the unrest led to bloodshed on August 16. “All that they were saying to you is, please come and talk to us,” Ntsebeza said. 

Mokwena took a decision, on August 10, not to negotiate with the strikers on the koppie. 

At the time, Lonmin only recognised the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the representative, majority union at the mine, despite evidence that it was no longer the preferred union of the majority of workers. 

The reason for this was threefold: First, Lonmin did not want to set a precedent among miners that the mines would accede to their demands if they made these outside normal structures. “I can understand your desire not to create a precedent,” Ntsebeza said. “When so many people had died and it is clear that the reason that this death is taking place is because there’s a dispute at the centre of it all. Remove the dispute then there’s no problem. Didn’t [the situation] call for you to think outside of the box? To go out of your way to think outside of the box, to negotiate with these people?” 

Mokwena said: “That’s the beauty of sitting here two years down the line. At the time…” 

“At the time eight of your people are dead, some incinerated. Was it the body count that would have changed your mind? Wasn’t it time for you to go in there and say. ‘I just want to hear you,” Ntsebeza said. 

Mokwena said the mine had only had the regular structures at its disposal at the time. 

Ntsebeza also revealed that despite promises made by Lonmin’s management that the families of the deceased would not go hungry, promised food parcels had only been donated once. Families of the deceased had only received food parcels twice, amounting to R1 700 each, in the Decembers of 2012 and 2013. 

“Whatever support families should get should be sustainable that takes away the dependency. I’m not privy to the details of that time but I believe we must create a sustainable solution,” Mokwena said. 

Next, Ntsebeza accused Lonmin of being insensitive towards the emotional needs of the families. Ntsebeza said: “On 13 and 14 August this year the commission set aside those days to deal with the restorative aspects of its work, and to hear the families. This was so that they could tell the commission, in their own words, the effects of their suffering. On those two days there was not a single representative from Lonmin management present.” 

Mokwena said he was not aware that the family presentations would be made on that day. 

Then, on Friday September 12, the remaining families, who did not get the opportunity to give testimonies to the commission, told Farlam their stories. 

“You were here,” said Ntsebeza to Mokwena. “You never came into the chamber.” 

Mokwena said he was preparing for his own testimony with his lawyers. He also said he had appointed a manager who had visited each of the families to see to their needs. “The situations of the victims is something I live with every day,” Mokwena said. 

Ntsebeza said: “You are being absolutely disingenuous. Your story about your concern for the families cannot stand the test of just those two days. I saw you, you were in the car park. When the opportunity came for you to hear what these families were saying, you just did not come.” 

Earlier, advocate Heidi Barnes, representing the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), put it to Mokwena that tension between NUM and Amcu was not the cause of the strike. Mokwena told this to the SAPS during a meeting on August 13. He also told the SAPS that the strikers on the koppie were “faceless, not known to Lonmin”. 

But Barnes pointed out that when Lonmin had tried to interdict the strike, it gave the court a list of all the striking miners. Mokwena said his remarks that the miners were “faceless” was a reference to the fact that they were not organised in a structured way.

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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. 

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