Marikana: Lonmin 'weighed up' cost of strike to lives of employees

Lonmin's lawyers argued that the mine ought not to have been expected to deal with events that were so extensive and covered such a wide area. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Lonmin's lawyers argued that the mine ought not to have been expected to deal with events that were so extensive and covered such a wide area. (Paul Botes, M&G)

The Farlam commission of inquiry, investigating the deaths of 44 people in Marikana, resumed in Pretoria on Monday. The commission heard arguments from several quarters, including legal representatives for Lonmin and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

On Tuesday, Heidi Barnes, for Amcu, put it to the commission that the union’s leadership acted responsibly and constructively in trying to avert violence and have strikers disarm, in the days leading up to the August 2012 shootings at Marikana.

Tshepiso Ramphele, representing two Lonmin security officers and one of the non-striking miners killed – allegedly by strikers – during the violent unprotected strike, said that a restoration fund should be established for the families affected by the shooting at Marikana. 

“Marikana is a test of constitutional values of the country,” said Ramphele. “This commission has to also look at restoration.”

Ramphele also touched on the strike’s legacy, saying that all the stakeholders, including labour unions and Lonmin, needed to make sure that the community in Marikana was not left carrying this legacy.
“Life has been life and our constitutional values say that we must try to have communities that live together, including with the employer.”

“We believe if that fund is created we will be able to go beyond this commission with the confidence that we will not have another Marikana.”

Earlier, Ramphele submitted that in sending their employees to deal with around 3 000 striking miners, Lonmin had weighed up the cost of the 2012 platinum strike against the lives of their employees. “In a commercial setting how much is a risk to the right to life?” he asked.

“If one looks at the damages one has to pay in ... because we [Lonmin] are going to lose R2-billion, we have a very reasonable consideration that says we can forgo R200 000 and we can forgo a number of R200 000s otherwise we lose R2-billion.”

According to Ramphele, the R200 000 represented the compensation Lonmin would pay to employees and their families incapacitated or killed on the job.

‘Can’t criticise Ramaphosa’
On Monday, Schalk Burger, for Lonmin, said the mine could not criticise Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for his role in events during the unprotected strike.

“He did what any responsible businessman would’ve done,” Burger told the commission.

Ramaphosa was a non-executive director and shareholder in Lonmin at the time of the strike.

During the commission’s last sitting, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) said the commission should report to President Jacob Zuma that Ramaphosa acted unwisely regarding Marikana, specifically questioning whether Ramaphosa should be held accountable for the use of political pressure on police.

Burger argued that Ramaphosa’s motive was to “stabilise the situation and bring the violence to an end”.

The commission also heard that Ramaphosa’s representatives would not be making oral submissions. “We’ve received a letter stating that they stand by their written submissions in their original heads of arguments and replies and there’s nothing they wish to add to that,” said evidence leader Geoff Budlender.

‘Not equipped’ to deal with strike
The commission heard that Lonmin could not breach the legal framework to negotiate with mineworkers on an unprotected strike. “There’s a contradiction between the suggestion that the law and constitutional democracy should be respected, and on the other hand impose on Lonmin to negotiate with strikers outside the legal framework,” said Burger.

He said Lonmin was governed by the Labour Relations Act. “Lonmin could not simply cancel the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] agreement and commence wage agreements with the RDOs [rock drill operators].”

“Had Lonmin engaged with the striking mineworkers on the 10th of August, we would’ve immediately blurred the two types of strike, and that would’ve had far reaching implications for the industry and country,” Burger quoted Barnard Mokwena as having said.

Mokwena was Lonmin’s executive president of human capital and external affairs at the time of the strike.

Another Lonmin lawyer, Azar Bam, admitted that Lonmin’s security staff were not equipped to deal with the strike. “They were not equipped to deal with an outbreak of violence to that extent,” Bam said. He said Lonmin demilitarised its operations in 2005, moving to deal with crime on a lower level. 

He argued that Lonmin only had 60 security guards at the time, and ought not to have been expected to deal with events that were so extensive and covered such a wide area.

Thirty-four people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with police on August 16 2012. Over 70 people were wounded, and over 200 arrested while police were apparently trying to disperse and disarm them. In the preceding week ten people were killed. – Sapa

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