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Amcu: We’re not the villains of the Marikana massacre

In the wake of the 2012 Marikana massacre, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) was widely criticised for being the driving force behind the unprotected strike which resulted in the deaths of 44 people. But on Tuesday, lawyers for Amcu argued at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry that the evidence showed otherwise.

Amcu, said advocate Heidi Barnes, had been “committed to finding a negotiated solution to the conflict that engulfed Marikana”.

The commission is hearing final arguments from various legal parties representing those involved in the strike.

Barnes said that Amcu president, Joseph Mathunjwa, had “on no less than six occasions” asked Lonmin to hold a meeting with all the relevant stakeholders. Mathunjwa had also “got down on his knees” and begged the striking miners to leave the koppie to avoid bloodshed.

Lonmin previously argued that it had read Mathunjwa’s request for a meeting as an attempt to get a seat at the bargaining table through the backdoor.

Amcu was not the majority union at the time.

Barnes said on Tuesday that Mathunjwa had explained this was not true: the rock drill operators had made it clear that they were not interested in being represented by unions in this instance. Mathunjwa’s request had thus been an attempt to get everyone around the table, with Amcu also represented.

“That he got down on his knees at Marikana demonstrates his true intention. He still went back to the koppie and did his best to persuade the strikers to leave.”

She said that all allegations against Amcu had been disproved at the commission. Lonmin itself was unable to provide proof that tensions between Amcu and the rival union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), had been the reason for the strike or the violence that followed.

Exonerating Mathunjwa
The evidence leaders at the commission recommended that Amcu and Mathunjwa were not liable for the events that occurred between August 9 and August 16.

“While Mathunjwa may appear to have tried to exploit the situation for the benefit of Amcu, he can hardly be faulted in relation to his attempts to avoid the catastrophe that ultimately unfolded. On two occasions on 16 August he pleaded with the strikers to disarm and disperse. On both occasions his plea fell on deaf ears. We submit that neither Mathunjwa nor Amcu can be found to be responsible for any of the events from 9 to 16 August,” the evidence leaders submitted.

Barnes said she disagreed with the evidence leaders’ allegation that Amcu had wanted to exploit the situation for its own benefit.

“Mathunjwa said (at the commission) that he knew he couldn’t get a seat at the bargaining table and that’s not what he was doing when he asked for a meeting … He wanted a central forum and he wanted Amcu to have a place at the forum,” Barnes said.

She said Lonmin’s submission, that it had not been able to “engage” the striking workers, was not sufficient.

“We submit that it had acquired a duty to engage by the 15th of August when the police implored it to engage (with the strikers) because 10 people had died by then,” she said.

Advocate Schalk Burger, on behalf of Lonmin, testified on Monday that Lonmin had not thought that the unions wanted to negotiate. He also said that going to the koppie would have been dangerous. Even if Lonmin had met the strikers, Schalk said, the company would not have been able to give the workers R12?500 a month, so the strike would not have ended.

Shifting the blame
On Tuesday Barnes said there was evidence before the commission that the miners had been willing to negotiate.

“Lonmin contends the demand (of R12?500) was non-negotiable. But Mathunjwa spoke to the workers and the workers said they knew Lonmin might not have R12?500, but that they thought maybe it could be achieved over some time. That’s part of the crucial feedback that he (Mathunjwa) wanted to give to Lonmin but Lonmin wouldn’t hear them,” she said.

Amcu also submitted that Lonmin purposefully spread the “lie” that union rivalry had been the primary driver of the strike.

Retired Judge Ian Farlam cautioned Barnes that this was a serious allegation against Lonmin. Farlam said his impression was that Lonmin had believed that Amcu was behind the strike and that union rivalry existed, but this did not mean that Lonmin had spread this rumour knowing that it was not true.

Barnes said Lonmin had offered no answer to the allegation.

“Of course there was union rivalry. But there isn’t any evidence that that was the cause of the strike. Lonmin did not put up evidence that that was so,” Barnes said. “I did put it to Barnard Mokwena (Lonmin’s former head of human resources) that there was no evidence of this, and he answered, rather lamely, that the two union leaders didn’t seem to be particularly fond of each other.”

She added that Lonmin had “perpetuated the myth” in media statements.

During cross-examination, Mokwena conceded to Barnes that Lonmin had been prepared to negotiate with the workers through NUM if they had gone back to work. Mokwena said Lonmin had been aware that workers had lost faith in NUM.

Final arguments will continue until Friday.

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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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